If you’ve been reading my entries regularly, then you already know that I’m a student of traditional astrology. Ptolemaic aspects. Like-engirding. Saturn-rules-Aquarius-not-Uranus. But every now and then I like to dabble in outer planet transits. While I cherish the use of “The Classical Seven” and favour “aversion” over the “inconjunct” or “semi-sextile,” nothing quite drives home post-modern angst like saying, “Pluto is transiting my natal IC and I’m at breaking point.”
Before Pluto, there was Saturn; before Neptune, Jupiter; before Uranus, some might say Mercury or Venus, but I’d argue that, in the vein of Richard Tarnas’ archetypal re-visioning of Uranus through the lens of the Prometheus myth, there’s nothing quite comparable in any of the aforementioned planets, not even the Apollonian Sun. Chiron has also been elevated to prominence in its assignment as the modern ruler of Virgo, dethroning Mercury who, in the traditional astrological schema, both rules and is exalted in the receptive earth sign.
To add to the modern pantheon of planets, dwarf planets, and asteroids bearing the names of Greco-Roman deities, I recently read Keiron Le Grice’s thought-provoking monograph, Discovering Eris: The symbolism and significance of a new planetary archetype. In it, Le Grice writes that as we grapple with new discoveries, new names for celestial bodies, and, by extension, new archetypal associations, “Eris could refer to an archetypal principle associated with reactions, discord, contrarities, antagonisms, and — to anticipate our discussion of the mythic connotations of Eris — to the experience of strife” (47).
In examining correspondences with historical events à la Tarnas, Le Grice posits that the cultural moment at which Eris was discovered — the news headlines and events that punctuated current affairs— could lead us to connect the Eris archetype with globalization and reactions against civilization. Potentially rooted deep within the collective psyche is “an unconscious response to the inherent discord between our conscious self-awareness and our biology, between self-reflective rationality and instinct, between the human self and nature” (44). Climate change, global terrorism, the contrapuntal evolution of technology in opposition to nature — all of these, cited in Le Grice’s tome which was published in 2012, have only been amplified by increasing incidences of domestic terrorism, political instability, insurrections, the pandemic, economic uncertainty, and challenges to oppressive social structures. In Le Grice’s words, sometimes violent and extreme, “the processes that have given rise to modern civilization, created modern industrial society, the global economy, and our technological culture, have pulled us into a state of potential catastrophic disharmony with the natural order of things” (55).
That’s not an easy archetype to make sense of, and certainly not within the natal chart. Although I’d argue that it’s much easier to read this archetype through mundane astrology, examining its influence natally — at least for me — still requires some careful thought and delineation in accord with past events, present moods, and default behaviours. While I may not have formalized my own approach to working with Eris in the natal chart just yet (and Le Grice offers some interesting examples of how the archetype manifested for certain key historical figures, like Friedrich Nietszche and Alan Watts), I will offer a few areas of inquiry that I am actively contemplating and researching in the hopes that it inspires others on a similar path of personal introspection.
The Eris Myth
I’m no Hesoid, but Eris (Discordia in the Roman pantheon) gets short shrift in the mythological canon. Considered the personified spirit (daimona) of strife, discord, contention, and rivalry, she had “rulership” over “the strife of war, haunting the battlefield and delighting in human bloodshed.” I greatly enjoyed Steven Forrest’s references to Eris’ pleasures: “She delights in ‘the groans of men dying in battle’” and “She ‘goes among them, increasing their pain.’” What an image!
Eris featured briefly in the ‘The Judgment of Paris’ myth. The originator of the fabled golden apple inscribed with the words, “To the Fairest,” Eris incited discord between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite when tossing the Pink Lady, Fuji, or Honey Crisp into the middle of Peleus and Thetis’ wedding celebrations. This largely concludes her fifteen minutes of most oft-cited mythological fame. Even Jean Shinoda Bolen, whose Goddesses in Everywoman was profoundly insightful to me in the infancy of my archetypal studies, calls her “a minor goddess” (263). Imagine how Mars’ sister must feel being labelled as “minor”?
In his article “Eros and Eris: Love and Strife in Ancient Greek Thought and Culture,” John Russon writes that ‘The Judgment of Paris’ “makes clear how eros, erotic passion, characteristically involves us with eris, strife. It reminds us that that erotic passion — the domain of Venus — can present itself so compellingly that it leads us to reject established order — embodied in Juno and Minerva — and thereby throw us into a life of strife” (83).
Russon’s description of the tension between eros and eris is strikingly contextualized within a summary of Hesiod’s Theogony. For Hesiod, the primordial beginnings were to be found in the “gap” (chaos), from whom Gaia, Eros, Tartaros, and Erebos (Night) were birthed. While my brief paraphrasing does little to recapture the beauty of the natural world that Russon details, what should be emphasized is the question that he poses: “And what is it like to live this reality, to live as ‘gap’? To experience the ‘between’ is to experience the insufficiency of what one is, to experience the longing for the beyond, to know the weakness at the heart of the substantial, to be ‘unstrung’: this is the reality of Eros” (84).
Erebos’ offspring, including Eris, offer a different set of ‘gaps’ with which we must cohabitate, particularly in the darkness. James Hillman reminds us that, at night, we are visited by Nyx and her children — Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death), as well as Old Wounds, Grudges, Bitterness, Unresolved Anger, and even Eris’ daughter, Lethe, who rules forgetfulness, oblivion, and concealment. Eris’ “loathsome strife,” as Russon calls it, “beares ‘burden, oblivion, and famine’ as well as ‘the tearful sorrows,’ ‘the clashes and the battles and the manslaughters,’ ‘the quarrels and the lies and argument and counterargument,’ ‘lawlessness, ruin, and oath’” (84). For this reason — the emphasis on lawlessness, ruin, quarrels, lies, and argument, I have parked Eris (for now) as one of those outer planetary entities that I do not delineate natally, but contemplate through activation, by transit and progression.
Move over Venus — There’s a New Ruler in Town?
A cursory stroll through astrology message board reveals the lively debate over Eris as a possible modern ruler of Libra — a position Le Grice proposes with debt paid, in part, to Liz Greene. Both Greene and Le Grice cite challenges with accepting some of the traditional ideas of Venusian rulership owing to Libra’s emphasis on principles such as justice, fairness, and morality (Le Grice, Discovering Eris, 110–117). Just as Virgo, Aquarius, Pisces, and Scorpio have all been assigned new modern rulers, the discourse over Libra’s yang, air energy has fueled speculation that the yin, earthy energy of Taurus is more well-suited to the conventional Venus “stereotype” — a word that, I believe, emphasizes one particular archetypal representation of Venus, which robs the deity of its inherent complexity.
I would like to preface my defense of Venus as Libra’s ruler by stating that Le Grice advances an exceptional argument within the context of Eris’ life-giving energy and its integral co-mingling with creation. I don’t discount this, but I also see a logic to the traditional astrological schema.
Full disclosure: I’m a Libra rising, so while I may have my biases, I can also see the rulership of Venus and exaltation of Saturn expressed in the areas of life that these planets touch. To me, the mixture of Venus and Saturn in this sign perfectly embody Libra’s quest for beauty through balance, equality, harmony, and fairness. The meting out of justice, for example, and judgments seem quite saturnine in flavour. Further, the fact that Mars is in its detriment and the Sun its fall in Libra sufficiently speaks to the primacy of relationships for this cardinal air sign. The planet and luminary responsible for the more Apollonian and Martial qualities of independence, action, strength, intelligence, and self-assertion are all challenged in Libra, where relationships, diplomacy, harmony, and brokering win-win outcomes reign supreme.
The other defense that I’ll make of Venus’ rulership over Libra has to do with the timing of the year. Libra governs the waning half of the seasons — when the light is dying, implying a kind of maturity to be found in Venus’ rulership not potentially found in fecund, youthful Taurus, which dominates the part of the year as the light is still young, growing, and gaining strength. Further allusions can be made to Venus’ phase: we know that when Venus rises as a morning or evening star, the energy differs; the same can no doubt be said for distinguishing Venus’ rulership over an active versus receptive sign.
I firmly believe we need to jettison the singular view we seem to have of Venus, dispensing with tired tropes of sensuality, sexuality, and romantic entaglements. In my engagement with the archetype, I have been particularly influenced by Shinoda Bolen’s thinking when she writes that Venus is fundamentally an “alchemical goddess,” possessing “the magic process or power of transformation that she, alone, had [in the Greco-Roman] pantheon” (224). In seeing her as seductress, sensual pleasure-seeker, and ruler of relationships, we fail to see the other traits that she expresses as Inanna/Ishtar, including agency, action, tenacity, and courage.
The alchemical qualities of Venus mirror those ascribed to the moon as well, and for the connection to these two celestial bodies I turn to Helen Benigni, whose The Mythology of Venus in the Mycean and Classical Era offers insight into why Venus and the Moon may connect Libra and Taurus more so than we appreciate on the surface. This excerpt is lengthy, but enlightening, and connected the dots for me between Venus’ dual rulership and the Moon’s exaltation in the sign of Taurus. Benigni writes that both Venus and the Moon are,
“…the two celestial bodies honored in a practical sense to determine calendar time and honored in a religious sense as the powers of the goddess to impart spiritual enlightenment through celestial awareness… [They] possess a certain degree of the sacred deemed sacrosanct by their nature to represent eternity and eternal love; the transformative character serves as sacred, particularly, in its representation of time and the cycles of the cosmos. As seen in the Paleolithic era and the Neolithic era, the transformative character of the feminine archetype represents both the cycles of the moon and Venus in conjunction with the sun. In mythology, this translates as the two interchangeable or seemingly monotheistic goddesses known in Minoan-Mycenaean and Greek culture as Hera, the goddess of the moon and the bull, and Aphrodite, the goddess of Venus. The goddess of the yearly cycles of the moon and the cycles of precession is often depicted in the same costume and on the same signet rings and frescoes as the goddess of Venus as their functions would require an association of almost interchangeable characters. The moon goddess, however, is almost always associated with the bull, the bull’s Horns of Consecration and The Sacred Axe, while the goddess of Venus is determined by her association with water, lustral basins, birds, The Tree of Life, and most importantly, the cycles of the planet Venus” (48).
While lengthy for a refutation, this is why I have yet to incorporate Eris as Libra’s ruler and may not do so. Too much of her archetype is bound up in relishing strife, discord, lawlessness and rejoicing in the pain of others, which runs counter to Libra’s drive to balance, harmonize, bring together, broker, and ultimately reconcile.
Eris in Matter and Motion
A few preliminary remarks about Eris as a celestial body are warranted before exploring my preliminary thoughts around working with this archetype in the natal chart.
First off, NASA indicates that Eris is one of the solar system’s largest dwarf planets, roughly equivalent in size to Pluto, except much further from the sun; in fact, a single jaunt around the sun takes Eris approximately 557 years — over twice as long as it takes Pluto!
Eris is currently transiting through the final degrees of Aries — a sign into which it ingressed in 1925 and should exit from in the mid-2040s. For most of us (unless you’re nearing the distinguished title of “centenarian”), depending on when we were born, Eris has predominated the cardinal fire sign ruled by her mythical brother, Mars. Whatever house cusp Aries is on in your chart (and FYI, I use whole sign houses and the tropical zodiac), Eris will have an effect on that area of your life. (And I should state that I’ve been experimenting with fairly tight orbs (around two degrees) when considering aspects and conjunctions.)
Eris in the Natal Chart
Dispensing with celebrity charts, I’ll share a few thoughts about how I am mapping Eris’ transits through my natal chart. While still a work in progress, I offer these brief thoughts as a starting point for those intrigued by Eris’ archetype.
Natally, Eris falls at 15 ̊ 21' of Aries, in my seventh house. This is just over a three-degree orb of of my ascendant-descendant axis and, failing to form any tight orbs with my natal planets — save for a semi-sextile with Mercury — I have no natal aspects to Eris. I would be curious to research more charts of family and friends who have a close aspect to Eris in order to learn more about the manifestation of the archetype before applying any predictive techniques.
I’ve had some surprising revelations from seeing activations of Eris by natal position, progression and transit. I used a tri-wheel with my natal chart in the centre, followed by a secondary progressed chart, and finally a transit chart for this — so, nothing earth-shattering there.
Looking to exact conjunctions of the luminaries and personal planets to Eris by secondary progression, my progressed moon was exactly conjunct natal Eris when I entered graduate school. The notable event marking this transit was the acrimonious professional relationship with my doctoral advisor, which, unfortunately, dominated my studies and, eventually, led me to leave the program. While the details of this episode of my life are outside the scope of this article, so much of this period aligns with “stife,” “discord,” a lack of fairness, quarrels and arguments.
Similarly, more than a decade later, my ascendant ruler, progressed Venus, almost exactly squaring Eris’ natal position from my tenth house and applying to a conjunction with my midheaven, coincided with another period of profound inner turmoil relating to a job that I wound up leaving, again, owing to a discordant environment. The details of this episode are less relevant than the signatures in the natal, progressed, and transit tri-wheel, and the key standouts include:
The transiting ruler of the seventh house, Mars, was within orb of Eris’ natal position in my chart. Mercury, the ruler of the twelfth house was retrograde by secondary progression and conjunct my natal Eris. Mercury rules my eighth house.
Concurrent with the rapidly escalating circumstances of my job, the environment which was jarringly toxic, I felt metaphorically imprisoned. With my job, even now, I still feel like there’s no forseeable alternative to the current trajectory I am on. Around the time that Eris was activated, I was gifted James Hollis’ Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, which put me on a path to engaging with Jung, archetypes, and astrology (Mercury is in my eighth-house natally). The connection between the seventh house, seventh house cusp ruler transiting my twelfth house, and the twelfth-house ruler conjunct Eris suggest to me that depth psychology became the mechanism by which I tried to reconcile the various contrarities with which I was grappling at the time: career advancement, work-life balance, and finding meaning. Further, it was around this time that I also began engaging with ecofeminist literature and fairy tales, tried reconnecting with nature, meditating, and making every conceivable attempt to restore some semblance of balance in my life (a very baseline Libran impulse).
Transiting Pluto was forming an exact conjunction to my natal IC and opposing my mid-heaven and was within less than a three-degree square of transiting Eris.
While Pluto transiting my IC should have been enough for one person, the addition of Eris seemed to compound the above-noted life and career changes. As I left the toxic, burnout job and began going through a fairly lengthy dark night of the soul, replete with what I can only term as a kind of quasi-functional depression, the standout connection linking Eris back to the above-noted grad school experience was Eris in the seventh house of relationships. In both instances, relationships with authority figures (I have a Pluto-Sun opposition natally, BTW) have also proved challenging; often, I have ceded my own power in deference to authority and in order to retain harmony. I needn’t explicate further how Eris’ themes played out in this period of my life, suffice to say, the connection to relationships in both cases (amplifying the Pluto-Sun opposition) is interesting fodder for further contemplation. Repeatedly, I have come up against challenging power dynamics that have been the vehicle through which Eris’ archetypal energies have played out.
I am reminded of the I Ching hexagram, Sung / Conflict, and its advice that, whenever conflict arises within or without the “proper response” is disengagement. That’s a worthwhile word to pause on, given how action-oriented we are: we engage with archetypes, we examine transits (themselves a thing in constant motion). The hexagram states that all conflict is ultimately inner conflict and that “it is the inner departure from clarity and equanimity that leaves us with feelings of despair and vulnerability.”
Eris, as we have discussed, is an archetype that, by its very nature, destabilizes. Its function is to challenge, rightly or wrongly, and despite reframing the more negative archetypal properties in terms of “healthy competition” or a desire for reconciliation after opposition, it nevertheless upends — sometimes harshly — when it is activated natally, making me regard it as a modern, outer planetary malefic energy which the psyche needs to integrate on its developmental path.
Agree? Disagree? Got a different perspective? Drop me a line to let me know if you’ve worked with Eris — would love to hear it!