Outer Planets - Irrelevant or Irreplaceable?
Since Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were discovered, there has been constant debate about their astrological relevance. These celestial bodies are not visible to the naked eye and were all discovered during the late 1700s and beyond, well after astrology became an established field. The ancients got along fine without using the outer planets, but nowadays, it’s rare to find astrologers that don’t include them in their chart analysis. Complicating things further, the astronomical community no longer classifies Pluto as a planet, we’ve found several objects that are bigger than Pluto in the solar system, so… even our definition and usage of the word “planet” is open to interpretation. At the end of the day, whatever resonates with you is “right,” but how can we make an educated decision about the outer planets’ relevance?
Outer Planets in Interpretation
Because the outer planets are so slow moving - taking between 84 and 248 year to complete a full orbit around the Sun - their sign placement is not particularly useful in individual chart interpretation. If everyone within a 20 year period has Pluto in Scorpio, this does not tell you much about a specific individual and their Plutonian nature. For this reason, the outer planets are more often used to describe the generations and the themes that each exemplifies. Looking at Pluto in Scorpio again, widely regarded as the Pluto placement for Millennials, we can infer that this generation is all about transforming how power is used, tearing down old structures that no longer serve us, and delving deep for hidden truths - seems applicable to me! The following generation, Pluto in Sagittarius or Gen Z, is all about building anew from what Pluto in Scorpio destroyed, creating new philosophies and guiding principles for our society. Super interesting to consider each generations’ strengths and how they view each other (and there are lots of resources out there if you want to learn more), but not helpful when we’re reading for individuals.
Since the rising sign is determined by time of birth, not birthdate, what does change from chart to chart are the house placements of outer planets. This can tell you where and under what circumstances the outer planet themes will manifest for an individual - for example, later in this article we’ll briefly look at Naomi Campbell’s chart, where we see Neptune in the 10th house and how it has manifested in her career. On the other hand, a person with Uranus in the 2nd house (money & resources) might undergo big fluctuations in her financial situation, maybe taking in lots of money one year but then going broke during a difficult transit.
When Pluto forms aspects to the inner planets or chart angles (1st, 4th, 7th, or 10th house cusps), it becomes even more significant in interpretation. Here we see the outer planets show up in ways that are more personal and specific than the big-picture generational themes described above. For example, a person with Venus square Neptune will be delusional about romantic partners, creating fantasies about people who aren’t what they seem; similarly, a person with Pluto right on the Midheaven will be ruthless, controversial, and maybe domineering in a work environment, suggesting power plays and challenges with getting along with others. I am biased as Pluto sits right on my Ascendant (and people do seem to view me as an intensely Plutonic individual!)… but when the outer planets come into contact with another point that is expressed more clearly and definitively, I find that their effects become harder to ignore.
Discovery Timing & Thematic Relevance
As soon as these planets were first observed, astrologers began conceptualizing how they would fit into their practice as they knew it, and began ascribing the widely-regarded meanings that these planets still hold today.
Uranus was discovered in 1781, right in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, when technology rapidly transformed what life looked like for people in the Western world. Thus, Uranus was given significations of innovation, eccentricity, sudden changes, chaos, and individuality - the whole realm of what’s possible.
Neptune was discovered in 1846, around the time that pushback against industrialization was mounting. Karl Marx began writing The Communist Manifesto, the Gold Rush began, and the Irish were suffering the Great Potato Famine. Neptune came to represent dreams & illusion, escapism, charity, spirituality, and divine connection - the whole realm of the intangible.
Pluto was discovered in 1930, during the Great Depression and between World Wars I and II. Life as it had been known was taking off in an entirely new and modern direction, representing a huge departure from yesterday’s world. Today, Pluto rules deep transformation, power, depth, intensity, and regeneration - everything that transmutes darkness into light.
As the outer planets were being discovered, a shift was being led towards a more psychological & evolutionary contemporary astrology, where charts are read through the lens of personal growth. This represented a sharp contrast to the ancients' fatalistic view - where individual placements and whole charts were judged as “good”/“strong” or “bad”/“weak.” The outer planets took on this same sort of open-ended vibe, representing themes that push us (often uncomfortably) to grown and develop as individuals. Astrology is based on the premise of “as above, so below,” where a change that occurs at one level shows up everywhere else at the same time… so it’s not surprising that these same themes were represented in both current events and astrology simultaneously. There is no such thing as a coincidence, clearly!
Because of the time period during which they were discovered, some have speculated that the outer planets are most helpful for interpreting modern concepts. In addition to the big conceptual themes listed above, each of the planets governs more specific elements that fall within each bucket - for example, Neptune represents Hollywood (illusion) and addiction (escapism), while Uranus represents the internet (innovation), and Pluto nuclear power (cataclysmic transformation). Using the outer planets, we should be able to see much more clearly if and how an individual relates to these modern themes - for example, we might see a medium with Neptune on their Midheaven (MC) or a blogger with Mercury conjunct Uranus.
Personally, I’m conflicted about this line of thought... I don’t love the implication that “life was simpler back then” and that "they" didn’t need as many planets to analyze an individual’s chart effectively. Let’s see if we can find some of the outer planet significations by looking at other parts of a chart - after all, the most important themes found during readings are those that show up in multiple places. Consider famous model and actress Naomi Campbell (chart to the right).
The biggest indicator of fame is certainly Neptune conjunct her MC, but we also see that her MC, the topmost part of the chart which represent career and public image, is at 1* Sagittarius, the sign that Jupiter rules. Since Jupiter is the sign of luck, positivity, and expansion, it signifies great career fortune and high regard from the masses. By itself, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she will be famous, but implies that anything she does will be very successful. She’s also got her Moon just a few degrees away in the 10th house, implying that her happiness and sense of security comes from that work that she does - again, implying success but not much about what that success might entail. However, her chart ruler (Saturn) in Taurus, the sign of aesthetics and luxury, does suggest that she might have success related to her physical beauty.
In this case, I do think that Neptune adds some dimension to her chart. But would we still be able to give her an accurate and insightful reading without using the outer planets? Most likely.
Personally, I only include the outer planets in birth chart readings if they form a significant aspect with a celestial body or chart angle. However, I do find them incredibly useful in transit readings, as their slow movement allows for razor-sharp insight into what someone might be dealing with over any significant time period. I often explain to clients that outer planets transits set up the big themes that we’re grappling with, while inner planets act as “triggers” that set these themes into motion and propel us towards personal growth. Yes, there are techniques like solar arcs and progressed charts that only require the inner planets, but I find that transit readings are much more accessible (to both clients and astrologers). I’m grateful for the added dimension that the outer planets bring to my astrology practice!