What can we surmise about Pluto in Aquarius – 2023/2024 to 2044 – from the 1777 to 1798 version? Heaps!
(If you’re interested in Sun or Rising sign specifics, see my 20-year Pluto in Aquarius horoscopes)
While the late 18th Century is most known for the French and American revolutions,* it also saw the world’s first successful slave uprising in Haiti along with the brutally suppressed White Lotus and Incan uprisings.
Successful or not, these rebellions against the established order set the scene for an era of artistic coups, gradual emancipation from archaic attitudes, flamboyant inventions and an extraordinary, society-rocking romance.
In The Making of the Modern Self, historian Dror Wahrman writes that before 1780, the question of “who am I?” would be answered within the constraints of the ‘ancien regime’ of identity.
“But towards the end of the 18th Century, a radical change occurred in notions of self and personal identity. It was a sudden transformation, nothing short of a revolution in the study of selfhood and of identity categories including race, gender and class.”
This unrecognized cultural coup, he asserts, was essentially the birth of modernity. Modernity, ready or not, is a hyper-Aquarian concept.
The scientific discoveries were certainly weird or groundbreaking enough to arouse the imagination (or anger) of the public. For example: Photosynthesis, black holes – or ‘dark stars’ as they were then called – the planet Uranus, electrostaticity, that water was a compound of oxygen and hydrogen, the smallpox vaccine, the efficacy of hypnosis and the elements Tungsten, Boron, Uranium, Titanium and Chromium amongst others.
And the inventions? During the last Pluto in Aquarius phase we devised submarines, tricycles + bicycles, the lithographic press, spinning technology that enabled ready-to-wear fashion, bifocal spectacles, the flush toilet, parachute and most dramatically, hot-air balloons – aka the first flight by humans.
Festooned with lavish art – fleur de lis and family crests or even masonic symbols – the first hot air balloons were powered by a roaring open fire beneath the basket. They were astonishingly dangerous and such a startling sight to people on the ground that the balloons, along with their inhabitants, were often attacked upon landing.
None of this deterred Elizabeth Thible, a Piscean with her Sun conjunct Uranus, from becoming the first female to fly in a hot air balloon. In 1784, just nine months after the initial ‘manned’ flight in Versailles, the 27 year-old embarked on a 45 minute flight with a Monsieur Fleurant.
Publicity-wise, it was genius – she claimed to be an opera singer, dressed up as the goddess Minerva and sang operatic ballads from La Belle Arsene (The Beautiful Virago), whilst also leaning buxomly out of the mid-air contraption to add extra logs to fuel the fire as the balloon flew along.
It later transpired that she wasn’t an opera singer and her occupation was listed as “abandoned wife of a merchant.” Sadly, she fades from history after this stunt. And…
…Pluto in Aquarius was also when a Gemini named Louis Lenormand invented the parachute: his occupation was officially “inventor/monk” but he’d apparently only become a monk to get undistracted inventing time.
The successful parachute came after a series of stunts in which, inspired by Thai tightrope walkers, he’d jump from buildings with modified umbrellas. He also experimented in chemistry and physics, took advantage of the new publishing technology to churn out hundreds of popular ‘technological dictionaries’ and inspired a spate of D.I.Y. everything.
I don’t think he was related to the iconic tarot card creator Marie-Anne Lenormand but it’s a cool concept.
William Blake, the ultra-talented multi-Sagittarian, was also quick to seize the potential of new print technology to make his creator’s mark. His self-published books of prints and poetry – with lines such as “Prisons are built with stones of Law, brothels with bricks of religion…” – were subversive, scandalous and hugely popular.
The 18th Century Pluto in Aquarius produced definitive manifestos – eg: Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Mary Wollstonecraft’s proto-feminist A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman – as well as seminal works of about the ‘inner lives’ of relationships like Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the social satire Evelina – Or The History Of A Young Lady’s Entrance Into The World by the fabulous Gemini Frances Burney.
In 1789, The Interesting Narrative of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano, the autobiography of a freed slave became a runaway bestseller, swelling the numbers of citizens calling for abolition.
A seven-year-old Ludwig Beethoven did his debut performance in Cologne, the French Revolutionary government opened the Louvre museum, stocked with items confiscated from the Church + Royals and the Swiss Aquarian artist Henry Fuseli horrified and fascinated the public with his painting The Nightmare.
This was also the period of the Sturm & Drang movement. Translated as Storm and Stress or Tempest and Urge, the creative movement elevated passion, individualism and the exploration of psyche over more sedate art or stoic sensibility.
Yet everyday life arguably out-weirded the official culture: one of the best-selling products in the world was a concoction called Olympian Dew, evidently a fragrance, energizer and skincare in one. It’s “sweet perfume makes wrinkles disappear, the softness of youth return and lovely Vivacity sparkle in the eye,” said one advertorial.
Vicars, politicans and even Mary Wollstonecraft railed against its popularity but still it sold.
The ‘Animal Magnetism Healing System,’ developed by Gemini Franz Mesmer, was super-fashionable for most of the Pluto in Aquarius era. Based on the concept of an unseen natural force between all living creatures, tides, earth currents and astronomical phenomena, it seems to have been similar to Qigong in some ways.
It deployed hypnosis, magnets, musical therapy and astrological theories based around the North + South Pole and planetary influence. While animal magnetism was eventually discredited, Dr Mesmer firmly established hypnosis as a modality – the word “mesmerize” is from his name.
Interestingly, he was born with Neptune in Gemini exactly trine his natal Pluto in Libra – Pluto in Aquarius turned that into an auspicious Grand Air Trine alignment that was most active over his years of peak success.
‘Smudging’ of one’s private parts was also common with the perfume of nutmeg, myrrh, juniper and frankincense sold specifically to waft into that zone of the body as a cure for (they claimed) venereal disease. There was apparently a widespread belief that the fragrance of plants and flowers was literally nourishing. I actually love this theory.
The people who were able to sense the zeitgeist as it was breaking established fantastic niches for themselves in the Pluto in Aquarius era.
Another unique late 18th Century trend was a sharp increase in the number of “She-Merchants” – a popular term for women in commerce. Business gazettes increasingly featured listings and announcements from female-run emporiums, retail outlets, agencies – to ‘arrange’ anything from travel to a marriage or ‘the handling of delicate situations’ – and factories.
“Matronage” was another new term as, before the French Revolution, three hugely influential Queens (Marie-Antoinette, her sister Maria Carolina of Naples and Charlotte of England) initiated a policy of commissioning paintings and performances from exclusively female artists. And…
…One of the performers ‘matronized’ by the Queen of Naples was also the woman at the center of an epochal, notorious love affair. Emma Hamilton was the lover of Horatio Nelson, Britain’s officially greatest naval commander, even today.
As both of them were married to other people, their romance created a massive uproar and was widely gossiped about, even in a era of limited communication options compared to today.
She was super-Venusian – a Taurus with Venus conjunct Uranus in Aries. He was a Mars man, a Libra with Mars rising in Scorpio and a personal motto of “the boldest measures are always the safest.”
Both rose from the classic humble background to rule their respective spheres – she left home to work as a domestic maid at the age of 12 and wound up working in the sex industry at a time when those women had literally no rights. He joined the Royal Navy, which was notoriously brutal to its new recruits, as a 12 year old who suffered from sea-sickness.
In a journey too long to relate here but brilliantly told by Susan Sontag in her historical novel The Volcano Lover, she ended up married to Lord Hamilton, the ambassador to Naples. (For a racier read, see England’s Mistress – The Infamous Life Of Emma Hamilton)
Living in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius, she became celebrated for her artistic performances and was the subject of numerous portraits. Her preferred style of dress – a loose, gauzy flowing white muslin frock with a high waist – was avidly copied by the fashion arbiters and was mainstream by the time of Jane Austen.
The new Lady Hamilton also became an accomplished, if unconventional, diplomat. When other avenues failed, her friendship with the Neopolitan Queen helped her secure vital military aid for England against the French.
Horatio Nelson, England’s greatest hope against an increasingly formidable foe in Napoleon, knew all this but had also been told Lady Hamilton was a ‘fallen woman’ rescued by her unlikely marriage to a much older aristocrat. She was given very little credit for the diplomacy and her ‘common’ accent was mocked by London newspapers.
Emma, for her part, was naturally drawn to musicians and artists not soldiers. Or, as Sontag memorably puts it “concentrated men of preposterous ambition and small stature who needed no more than four hours of sleep a night.”
In 1793, when he sailed in on the Agamemnon with a fleet of warships, everyone was terrified of Napoleon’s encroaching army and Mt Vesuvius had become alarmingly “sub-eruptive.”**
Yet Emma and Horatio met and fell wildly in love at possibly the most inconvenient time ever. They were noted by observers at the time to have ‘eyes for no other.’
According to one story, they didn’t directly speak to one another until an apparently obligatory tour of Pompeii ruins late on the day that they first met: Gazing at the famous figures caught in poignant embrace, the British naval commander turned directly to Lady Hamilton and said ‘do you think they were us?’
Nobody really knows when it began but their romance was more or less immediately mighty, complete with passionate love letters and thundering orders from London H.Q demanding that England’s supreme soldier respect propriety.
Compounding the scandal, Nelson than moved in with Emma Hamilton + her husband and mother, whilst still married and also commanding the Royal Navy in their greatest battle on record. They even had two children together.
It had an immense cultural impact because while many were appalled, others were inspired by such a convention-defying romance. Pluto in Aquarius ended in 1798 with, almost as a final flourish of weirdness, Napoleon’s Scorpio Chief of Staff Louis-Alexandre storming the Vatican and arresting the Pope.
*The French and American revolutions have become a prime reference for historical Pluto in Aquarius, partly because people are highly attuned to ‘insurgency indicators.’ But that era also featured a particularly flashy astro-catalyst – Uranus in Leo opposite Pluto.
We’ve just had the Zap Zone of Uranus square Pluto – 2012 to 2015 – and the next Uranus-Pluto opposition will come with Pluto in Pisces. Remember that if you come across any overly fervent commentary.
**It didn’t erupt until the following year but living adjacent to the ruins of Pompeii would presumably sharpen your awareness.