As we’ve come to learn of late, the astrological heavens are not confined to eight (formerly nine) planets circling our sun. These energies, dominant in our psyches though they might be, are just the tip of the celestial iceberg, and the vast array of minor bodies which shares our cosmic neighborhood all have a role to play in our understanding of the human condition.
Anyone who doubts the utility of these newly discovered points would do well to consider Pluto. Though demoted by science in 2006 to the status of a “minor planet,” this point had been used by astrologers for 75 years before its relegation to cosmic debris. No one who has encountered it directly can have any lingering concerns about its value or potency. This being the case, what can be the argument for not including the rest of its celestial bedfellows in our astrologic worldview?
Chiron was the first of these new bodies to be discovered and embraced by astrologers. Chiron, like Pluto, introduces us to a unique phenomenon among these outer points, namely, variable speeds. Unlike traditional planets, which move at a roughly even pace from sign to sign as they career about the sun, these outer bodies have much more eccentric orbits, and the amount of time they spend in different signs varies widely. This in turn creates a related phenomenon, which is hugely disparate geometric interactions with each other. The interaspects between any two of these bodies will not repeat with even regularity, like a schoolboy saying his lessons by rote. Rather, depending on their relative speeds and cycles, the same aspects may recur fairly frequently, or not for hundreds of years.
Such is the case with Pholus and Ixion, two points which have proved their prominence to the satisfaction of astrological researchers since their discovery, and which are currently locked in a super-conjunction lasting almost three and a half decades. During this time (from 2008 through 2043), Pholus, a centaur body lying between the orbits of Neptune and Saturn, and Ixion, a Trans-Neptunian body in the region of Pluto, will never be more than five degrees apart, and will make several exact conjunctions, predominantly in the early ‘teens of the 21st century (now), and again in the 2030s. Although Pholus’ orbital period is a “mere” 92 years, while Ixion’s lasts for 250, these two have come together in the same place, and at the same pace, in a rare combination unlikely to be repeated for a very long time (their conjunction of 1627-28 lasted barely a year; that of 1727-28 lasted two years, but with gaps; their latest conjunction in 1902 was less than a year; their next conjunction in 2076 lasts about two years).
Whenever two planets or points come together at the same region of the zodiac, their energies are blended, for good or ill. The long association of Pholus and Ixion has some disturbing ramifications which are just beginning to become apparent. A look at their mythologies will give us an insight into how they manifest, and why their pairing can be so problematic.
Pholus is unique in the annals of myth as being only one of two “civilized” centaurs, the other being Chiron. These two are bound also by their friendship with Heracles, the great classical Greek hero, and also by their deaths, both of which were caused by Heracles, albeit unwittingly. But their origins are very different.
Chiron was the only divine centaur, born of a union between the Titan Kronos and Philyra, a nymph. Kronos lusted for Philyra, but she spurned his advances, turning herself into a mare to flee his embrace. So Kronos simply transformed himself into a stallion to pursue her, and of their union was born the half-human, half-horse Chiron. But the other centaurs, including Pholus, were mortal, and most were the descendants of … wait for it … Ixion! We’ll discuss his myth in a bit.
To return to Pholus: his interest in all things scientific and intellectual led him to interaction with the master teacher Chiron, whose pupil Heracles briefly was. When Heracles was engaged upon his Fourth of Twelve Labors, the capture of the Erymanthian Boar, he took advantage of the proximity of Pholus’ cave during his journey to visit his old friend. As a good host, Pholus offered the hero some meat and drink, but Heracles begged a taste of a large jar of wine which had been the gift of the god Dionysos to all the centaurs of the region, and was entrusted to Pholus’ care. Pholus was reluctant to grant Heracles’ request, but eventually yielded. Upon opening the jar, its heady aroma wafted through the surrounding forest, prompting the other centaurs, enraged by the violation of their property, to charge the cave.
Heracles drove them off, killing many with his arrows poisoned by the Hydra’s blood, and pursued them for miles. In his absence, Pholus began preparing the dead for burial, and, fascinated that such a small thing as Heracles’ arrowheads could bring down so great a creature as a centaur, he removed an arrow for further inspection. The weapon slipped from his grasp and penetrated his foot, its poison killing him instantly.
Astrologically, Pholus represents many things. Noted astrologer and centaur researcher Melanie Reinhart uses the keyphrase “the lid comes off”, referring to the uncorking of that wine that caused all the trouble, to express Pholus’ ability to shake things up quickly, and in a big way. Themes of poisoning, accidental death, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and fatal fascination or curiosity all emerge, but for our purposes in defining the effects of its prolonged union with Ixion, the most notable aspect of his story is the emphasis on multiple deaths.
For Ixion is noted principally as the first murderer in Greek mythology, and his celestial namesake resonates strongly to homicide. Bring the two together, and a central theme of the current Pholus/Ixion conjunction emerges as mass murder.
Ixion’s tale is more complex than murder, however, and reveals more of his astrological usage. A king of the Lapiths in Thessaly, Ixion was a son of Ares, God of War, and inherited much of his father’s disagreeableness. When he took a wife, Ixion cheated his father-in-law of the bride price. The father-in-law retaliated by stealing some of Ixion’s horses. Summoned to a make-up wedding banquet, when his father-in-law arrived, Ixion pushed him into a bed of burning coals, killing him. The other local kings, offended by this horrible act against a relative and a guest, expelled Ixion from his kingdom, and he wandered an outcast until Zeus took pity on him and invited him to Olympus to be purified of his misdeeds.
But once there, Ixion forewent his second chance, lustfully fixating upon his host’s wife and attempting to bed her. When Hera reported this to Zeus (no slouch himself in the philandering department), Zeus was in disbelief at the insolence and ingratitude of his guest. Fashioning a cloud in the exact likeness of his wife, he tempted Ixion with it. Ixion took the bait and impregnated the cloud with what would become Centaurus, the progenitor of the other centaurs, resulting from the coupling of Centaurus with wild horses. Zeus then ordered Ixion bound to a fiery wheel which revolved endlessly in the heavens, cursed to forever intone the words, “you should be grateful to your benefactor.”
Astrologically, in addition to murder, Ixion represents themes of ingratitude, a sense of entitlement, bad faith and being offered a second chance. It appears prominently in the charts of serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy (with Ixion trine Mars/Jupiter and sesquiquadrate Saturn), Jeffrey Dahmer (opposed Pluto and sesquiquadrate Mercury), David Berkowitz (conjunct Saturn/Neptune, trine Mercury/Mars and sesquiquadrate Jupiter) and Ted Bundy (conjunct Jupiter/Neptune and sextile Pluto). And lately, in combination with Pholus, it has dominated the news in the form of mass shootings which have increasingly plagued the US since these two came within orb of each other in 2008, and especially after their first exact conjunction in January 2012.
By itself, Pholus is prominent in mass death events not related to murder, such as natural disasters. At the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, with an estimated 316,000 lives lost, Pholus at 14 Sagittarius was exactly inconjunct the 14 Cancer Ascendant and closely trined Mars at 16 Leo.
- The Indian Ocean tsunami sparked by the undersea earthquake on December 26, 2004, death toll variously estimated at 230-310,000, saw Pholus at 28 Scorpio conjoined Mars at 0 Sagittarius and squared Uranus at 3 Pisces.
- The Bangladeshi cyclone of 29 April 1991, which killed 138,000, has Pholus at 12 Cancer conjunct Mars at 14 Cancer and opposed Uranus and Neptune at 13 and 16 Capricorn.
- The Tangshan earthquake on July 28, 1976 may have taken as many as 750,000 lives, with Pholus at 15 Pisces in a T-Square pattern with Neptune at 11 Sagittarius and Mars at 13 Virgo.
- And the Nevado del Ruiz volcanic eruption on 13 November 1985, one of the deadliest such events with some 23,000 casualties, shows Pholus at 3 Taurus opposed Pluto at 5 Scorpio and trine Neptune at 1 Capricorn.
The list goes on, with Pholus key to many mass death events globally since records have been kept, from the late 1800s to the present.
But now in company with Ixion, this celestial duo has inaugurated a new phase in the history of homicide, with mass “spree” murder becoming an all too frequent occurrence. This period can be said to have begun on January 8, 2011, with the shooting of US Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at an open-air “Congress on Your Corner” town meeting, killing six, and wounding thirteen, including Giffords, who was shot through the head but survived.
Just eight days later, Pholus would move to within less than one degree from Ixion, beginning the most intense period of their super-conjunction. At 16 and 17 Sagittarius respectively, Pholus and Ixion were still within orb of transiting Mercury (ruling town meetings) at 24 Sagittarius, while sextile Saturn (ruling government officials and the ancient lord of death) at 16 Libra, and semisextile the Sun (the focus of the day) at 18 Capricorn.
This pattern of complicity with the major mass shooting stories of our day continues. When James Holmes, dressed as The Joker, shot up an Aurora, Colorado movie theater during the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” on July 20, 2012, killing 12 and wounding 58, Pholus and Ixion combined at 16 and 17 Sagittarius, opposing Venus (ruling entertainment events) at 15 Gemini, and trining the Moon (the public, public spaces) at 11 Leo.
Just two weeks later, on August 5, Wade Michael Page entered the worship services at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh Temple and opened fire, killing 6 and wounding 4 others. Pholus and Ixion were still at those degrees, now opposing Jupiter (ruling religious facilities) at 11 Gemini and trine the Sun at 13 Leo.
The horrific massacre by Adam Lanza of 20 children and six staff members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 saw the Sun at 22 Sagittarius just past its annual conjunction with Ixion and Pholus, exactly together then at 19 Sagittarius. A semisextile to Mars, ruling violent attacks, at 21 Capricorn completes the picture. Adam Lanza himself (born 22 April 1992) shows prominent birth chart contacts to the pair, which is involved in a Grand Trine with Mars at 19 Pisces, Pholus at 27 Cancer, and Pluto conjunct Ixion at 22 and 26 Scorpio. This pattern repeats with other shooters in subsequent incidents.
The death toll at the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013 was comparatively small, with three victims, but more than 250 were wounded, many requiring amputations. Ixion and Pholus united at 20 and 22 Sagittarius were trined a Sun/Mars pairing (Mars ruling athletes and sports events) at 25 and 26 Aries, and opposed the Moon (the public—most of those wounded were spectators) at 26 Gemini.
Both perpetrators, the Tsarnaev brothers, had strong Pholus and Ixion placements in their natal charts. Tamerlan, the elder brother killed by police (born 21 October 1986), had an exact conjunction of Venus and Ixion at 19 Scorpio, with Mercury (runners) nearby at 22 Scorpio, opposed Pholus at 15 Taurus, which is broadly squared Mars (violence) at 7 Aquarius. Dzhokhar, the younger brother still in custody to face trial (born 22 July 1993) has Ixion at 25 Scorpio with Pluto (modern ruler of death) at 22 Scorpio, in a T-Square with Pholus at 20 Leo and Saturn (ancient ruler of death) at 28 Aquarius; Pluto/Pholus are also trine the Sun at 29 Cancer.
On 7 June 2013 John Zawahri terrorized the campus of Santa Monica College, killing five and wounding four before dying in a shootout with police. The Sun at 17 Gemini conjoined Jupiter (academic settings, colleges) at 25 Gemini, and both opposed the Ixion/Pholus union at 19 and 20 Sagittarius. Incredibly, Zawahri (born 8 June 1989), who would have been 24 the next day, had a natal grouping of Sun, Jupiter and Pholus at 17 and 18 Gemini, hit by the transit Sun and opposed by transit Ixion/Pholus on the day of the shooting. Natal Ixion at 22 Scorpio was also trine natal Mars at 25 Cancer.
Three months later the nation’s capital was the scene of carnage when Aaron Alexis went on a shooting rampage at the DC Navy Yard, killing 12 and wounding 3, on September 16. Pholus and Ixion together at 18 Sagittarius squared the day’s Sun at 23 Virgo and trined Mars at 12 Leo. Alexis’ (born 9 May 1979) natal Sun at 18 Taurus was exactly opposed natal Ixion at 18 Scorpio, with Pholus at 26 Pisces in semisextile to Mars at 24 Aries.
The full story of what occurred on Malaysian Air flight 370 before it went down in the south Indian Ocean may never be known, but it took the lives of 239 passengers and crew, putting it in the top 20 air disasters of all time, ranked by fatality. Given the abrupt change in flight path and the extent of the journey before the crash, an accident seems unlikely. Whether pilot suicide or terrorist act, the deaths qualify as mass murder. When the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, Ixion at 22 Sagittarius and Pholus at 24 Sagittarius were squared the 17 Pisces Sun, semisextile Saturn at 23 Scorpio and sextile Mars retrograde at 27 Libra.
It can be difficult, given the complexities of life, to sort through the daily Sturm und Drang and determine exactly what is creating what, and with a conjunction of so vast a time frame as that of Pholus and Ixion, we can become so accustomed to these effects that we barely notice them, so embedded into the fabric of our existence. Think about it—three and a half decades is still the better part of half most human lifespans. It’s the big moments, these types of mass killings, that stand out in our memory as emblematic of the conjunction’s energies.
But on a more everyday level, this conjunction is bound to become pervasive as well. A heightened sense of entitlement or arrogance, in ourselves and others, is part and parcel of Ixion’s temperament, along with ingratitude and a lack of appreciation generally, especially as regards the “breaks” and second chances we receive, which we begin to count our due, rather than an act of forgiveness or grace. Pholus adds a layer of disproportionate response to provocations, blowing things out of proportion, often based in poor choices we have made which we knew at the time could lead to trouble, but to which we acceded, foolishly or reluctantly, perhaps pressured by others.
Together, this leads to an irritating atmosphere, where boundaries of decency and civility are often overstepped and everyone is spoiling for a fight; when small, sometimes miniscule, aggravations become incitements to outsized retributions, like shooting a teen for talking back when asked to lower his car’s stereo volume in a convenience store parking lot, or shooting a young father for texting and throwing popcorn in a movie theater during the previews of coming attractions (both of which occurred in Florida over the past two years). The daily grit and grind of these two energies rubbing and chafing each other for decades is simply too much for many people to handle positively or creatively, even if most don’t act out to the extremes described above.
Worse, there is created an expectation that this is how reality will be—ceaselessly perambulating along the continuum from frustrating or exasperating to irksome, maddening and infuriating, with never a breathing space to calm ourselves and find that core of inner peace. It can wear down the heartiest soul.
But we have almost 30 years more of this to endure, so coping mechanisms or better ways to express these energies will have to be found. Ixion is the hardest nut to crack—there is really very little redeeming about his character or his story, but he can be used as a cautionary tale, reminding us to show gratitude to those who have helped us along our way, to treat fairly with others, not to expect something we haven’t earned. Pholus is easier—remember that what we do always affects others, learn to listen to that small voice of caution which asks us to rethink a decision or avoid a situation which may become problematic, don’t get carried away by the curiosity or excitement of the moment and drawn into conflict or self-undoing, be true to your word and don’t violate the rights of others.
A slender reed to grasp, perhaps, in the whirling maelstrom of the Pholus/Ixion conjunction, but it’s the only one we have.