When the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted to downgrade tiny Pluto to "dwarf" planet status in 2006 many small school children -- and some of their parents -- reportedly screamed to high heaven.
But kids get over things quickly. And many of the grown-ups who initially thought the idea was bizarre, including the occasional astronomer who voted to keep Pluto in the fold as a full-fledged member of our extended solar family, appear to have moved on as well.
Only don't expect astrologers to go quietly into this dark night.
For IAU astronomers, Pluto's claims for equal status began to unravel with the discovery of similar icy worlds in the Kuiper Belt, a region of space that extends out beyond the orbit of Neptune. First discovered in 1992, the Kuiper Belt is now known to be home to more than 1,000 icy bodies, some large and round enough to fit the new IAU definition for a "dwarf" planet.
"Most astronomers believe Pluto should take its place alongside other Kuiper Belt objects rather than consort with the ‘real' planets. Astrologers have a different idea," says President Gisele Terry of the International Society for Astrological Research (ISAR).
Pluto's demotion doesn't square with evidence the astrological community has been collecting for decades, she maintains. By all accounts, it wasn't easy for 18th century astrologers to adjust to the idea that two massive planets, Uranus and Neptune, were circling the sun at distances well beyond the orbit of Saturn. And then, more than a century later, tiny Pluto exploded into public awareness after being spotted glowing dimly on photographic plates exposed at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.
Cartoonist Walt Disney was so impressed he named one of his most lovable and endearing animated cartoon characters, Pluto the pup, after the distant wanderer. But astrologers noticed that Pluto's namesake was the mythological ruler of the underworld and thought it might prove fruitful to check out the planet's darker side, Terry said.
After years of observing the planets in action, western astrologers have determined that Uranus is the impulsive, rebellious, liberating archetypal force involved in sudden, unexpected changes of all kinds. Dreamy, idealistic, imaginative Neptune is a complex archetypal force most typically identified with spiritual transcendence or with qualities of an elusive or illusory nature.
But tiny Pluto has emerged as a solar system powerhouse on every level. Although three times smaller than the Earth's moon and five times lighter, astrologers say the planet influences events that are titanic, massive, psychologically profound and compelling.
Archetypal Pluto is linked not only to death and regeneration but to the fundamental principal of power itself. As New York astrologer John Marchesella puts it, "Pluto is not one of the sweet little dwarves who whistled while they worked with Snow White."
Marchesella is Chairman of the National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR) and describes Pluto as "a warlord, the God of transformation. Pluto is war but not the honorable kind but rather guerilla warfare," he said.
In the current issue of Archai, The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, research scholar Rod O'Neal historically chronicles Pluto's role in the major events unfolding in the Puritanical religious movement from its inception in England through its journey to New England and the New World -- and into the current era.
"The Pluto archetype represents shadow, taboo and feared elements, including the underworld, hell, Satan and sin. But it is also the strength and regeneration that comes from successfully encountering what is feared," he said.
Thanks to the orbiting Hubbel telescope, astronomers tracking Pluto today see a great deal more than faint images on photographic plates at the Lowell Observatory. The Pluto they see is a small but self-contained world with four moons and a wildly elliptical orbit that reaches the Kuiper belt at one extreme and moves inside the orbit and closer to the sun than Neptune at the other.
At a recent astrological conference, a "Bill of Rights" for astrologers was circulated. Atop the list was the right to continue calling Pluto a planet.