I’ve noticed that many astrologers seem to take the outer planets personally, and this is a huge mistake. The outer planets are extremely important; however, you have to understand what they represent, and how they function in the context of the natal chart. Most astrologers have a general understanding of how each of the outer planets expresses. What they lack, however, is the context that allows them to incorporate this information in specific, practical ways in a natal interpretation.
This is one of many key concepts missing from most astrologers’ education. Fortunately, it’s an easy problem to fix. All you have to do is consider what you already know about the outer planets, and then connect the dots.
What’s In a Name?
Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, are classified as “outer” planets in astrology. This classification sets them apart and indicates that they have fundamental differences from the “inner” planets. These classifications aren’t random; they provide important information about the nature and the function of the planets.
The “inner” planets, Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, are also known as the “personal” planets. They are “inner,” so they live inside you, expressing as the seven Astrological Archetypes. They are “personal,” because these are the planets that shape and define your individual, personal identity and personality.
The “outer” planets then must be the opposite of the “inner” planets. The “outer” planets do not live inside you, and they are not personal. The outer planets represent forces that are external to you as an individual. They’re bigger than any one person, and they symbolize powers that are beyond any individual’s ability to master or control.
This means that you do not ever experience the outer planets directly. You can only have direct experience of the energies that are a part of you, i.e., the inner planets. When you experience the outer planets, you do so through the filter and context of the inner, personal planets. When an outer planet makes an aspect to one of your personal planets, you experience the effects of the outer planet, but only as it effects your experience of that personal planet, and the areas of your life that it rules.
Talkin’ ’Bout My Generation
Another reason that the outer planets are not personal or individual is that they move so slowly that their effects can’t be seen on a personal level. The cycles of the outer planets relate to world events, which is why the outer planets are so important in mundane astrology. The outer planets can reveal the big picture. They relate to cultural and social transformations that play out over years and decades, not personal issues that play out over weeks and months.
The outer planets move so slowly that their positions and aspects to each other define entire generations of individuals. Uranus, the fastest of the traditional outer planets, spends about 7 years in each sign. You’ll hear astrologers refer to the “Pluto in Libra” generation or the “Pluto in Virgo” generation. I was born in 1967, and I’m part of the generation that experienced the Uranus-Pluto conjunction in Virgo. This conjunction lasted for the better part of 4 years, from 1964 until Uranus moved into Libra in 1968. Every single person in the world born between 1964 and 1968 has this aspect in his or her chart. It defines a generation, but it does not in any way, define or describe any of the individuals born in that generation.
In the natal chart, it’s best to think of the outer planets as social and cultural background noise. Certainly, everyone born into a given generation will be influenced in some way by the state of society in general (and even more directly by his or her particular circumstances of birth). When an outer planet makes an aspect to a personal planet, it indicates how these social and cultural influences affect an individual, personally.
What you can’t do is attribute any individual personality traits to an outer planet or an aspect between two outer planets. That I have Neptune sextile Pluto in my chart means nothing at all. You can’t use this aspect to describe anything about me, personally, because nothing about it is personal. None of my personal planets aspect either Neptune or Pluto, so this particular aspect is nothing but background noise.
Every time I encounter an astrologer who uses outer planet aspects to try to describe an individual personality trait, I want to scream. I think we can all agree that writing this article is a much more productive way to channel that particular frustration.
But just to reiterate the central point, the outer planets are not personal. If you are attempting to describe a personality trait, you have to involve a personal planet in that interpretation.
Outer Planets in Houses
Because the outer planets move so slowly, the sign of the outer planet has little importance in a natal interpretation. However, it’s worth considering the house placement of the outer planets.
The outer planets represent forces beyond our control as individuals; they are much bigger than any individual (which is why they don’t—and can’t—live inside us), but they are very much a part of the world, so we will encounter them on a regular basis. The house of each outer planet tells where we will encounter these forces. If Uranus is in the 2nd house, you can expect to encounter unexpected disruptions and sudden change (Uranus) in your finances and resources (2nd house). If Neptune is in your 7th house, you might experience patterns of deception and disillusionment (Neptune) in your relationships (7th house). And if Pluto is in your 5th house, you might encounter your issues with power and control (Pluto) in your love affairs, which might make it hard to get a second date … unless you met at a Fifty Shades of Grey fan club event.
What’s important to remember is that none of these experiences are personal. When you encounter an outer planet in an area of your life, it always seems like it’s coming from outside of you. You project your issues with that planet on other people, and they become the agents of that outer planet in your life. If that outer planet also aspects one or more of your personal planets, your experiences with that outer planet will be that much more significant. Every time you encounter that outer planet it will push your buttons.
Remember that how you experience the influence of the outer planets depends on your level of consciousness. You may not be able to master or control the outer planets, but you can learn how to work with their energies in ways that are creative and supportive. Even though your initial experience of the outer planets is often negative, it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Outer Planets and the Angles
The only way that you, personally, can experience the outer planets in your chart is when they make an aspect to your personal planets. This applies both to natal aspects, and also to transiting aspects. Many astrologers would argue that having an outer planet on an angle, or even making an aspect to an angle would mean that you would experience the energy of that planet. And they would be wrong.
The planets are the only things that you can experience in your chart. The angles are mathematical points, not physical bodies. The angles are the doors that connect your inner life to the outside world. What this means is that you don’t experience the angles in your chart: other people do.
When you have an outer planet on an angle, that planet shines through you and its light is experienced in the outside world. It’s still not personal — it has nothing to do with who you truly are. But it does change how other people perceive and relate to you.
If you have Pluto on the Ascendant, for example, you are an unwitting and unintentional vessel for Pluto’s power. The Ascendant is the front door; it’s where we go to meet other individuals for the first time. And as soon as you open the front door, surprise! There’s Pluto! The person standing in front of you instantly projects his or her Pluto issues with power, control, and manipulation onto you. They don’t see you; they see Pluto — and they relate to you from that perception. It’s not personal, and it has nothing to do with you.
And besides, you’re far too busy projecting your own outer planet issues on that person to be concerned with how that person perceives you.
Agents of Change
Whenever I enter the realms of speculation, I begin with a disclaimer, and this is it. This last section is theoretical and speculative, but it’s something that intrigues me, and it seems to be a logical extension of the context of the outer planets.
One thing that struck me while I was interpreting Edward Joseph Snowden’s chart was the amount of outer planet aspects to his personal planets. Whatever his motivation, Snowden’s actions will have profound and lasting repercussions in the world. While I was writing the interpretation, I kept thinking of Snowden as an agent of change. In the greater scheme of things, Snowden was little more than a pawn. He had no plan, and no greater aspirations. He has no ability to influence or direct the outcome of his actions. And yet, his actions have great significance, far beyond his personal experience, and we won’t know the effects of those actions for years.
Mundane astrology studies world events, and the outer planets are particularly well suited to seeing the bigger picture because of their lengthy cycles. We associate the shifts of the outer planets with profound and lasting changes in the world. But aside from natural disasters, how does that change happen? Change happens because of the actions of individuals.
It would be interesting to consider the charts of other agents of change: individuals who, for better or for worse, changed the world through their actions. I suspect that their charts would have significant aspects between the outer planets and their personal planets.
There is no way to validate this theory, of course; there are far too many variables to consider. But the bigger issue is that I don’t think that having aspects from outer planets to personal planets means that you will be an agent of change. I just think that it means that you could be used by the outer planets at some point — if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Snowden’s chart isn’t that remarkable. But he had the potential to be an agent of change, and he ended up in a position where he could be of use by forces beyond our understanding. He was a pawn, and now, at least for the moment, he seems to have been captured and taken off the board. The outer planets have no further use for him at this time.
Again, this isn’t provable or even practical. But I do find it fascinating because it seems to hint at a greater dynamic, and some of the workings of the Law of Karma.
However, it’s still not personal.
As I often tell my students, “The outer planets are none of your business.”