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Nessus and Pholus

I have been thinking a lot about the Minor Planets, Nessus and Pholus, discovered in the 1990s. They are named for mythological centaurs and are connected to the most gifted centaur, Chiron. Chiron was discovered in 1977 and traveled alone until his companions began to be sighted. There are now many (close to 100) other new minor planets, but Nessus and Pholus were the first to be discovered. They share some of Chiron’s unique astronomical properties; like Chiron, they come from outside our solar system and have highly elliptical orbits.

Melanie Reinhart writes about Nessus and Pholus in each of her newly revised books. I wrote a review of the new edition (2009) of her book, Chiron and the Healing Journey, in TMA Feb/March 2011. To quote from that review:

“Reinhart remains at the vanguard of those astrologers who are integrating the newer celestial objects that “may enter our inner space, ‘visiting’ us for a time.” These “visitors,” which include Chiron and the other Centauric bodies, have their origins in the Kuiper Belt, discovered in the early 1990s. Pluto is the most famous object now thought by astronomers to have originated there.” (1)

(Long time readers may remember early articles in TMA. In January 1996, Robert von Heeren wrote New Discoveries beyond the Orbits of Neptune and Pluto, and in July 1996, von Heeren and Dieter Koch together wrote The New Planet Pholus.)

My own thinking on Nessus and Pholus has been directly influenced by Melanie Reinhart, whom I first heard teaching on these two new bodies at UAC in Orlando in 2002. (My initial reaction to these guys was, oh no, more trouble. I knew she was on to something, but it took some time before I began to recognize them at work. At the moment, Nessus and Pholus are all over the place in my life, but as astrologers know, that’s the way it is with archetypes.)

Their myths are complex and evocative (I’ll include some links below), but, for now, suffice it to say that these companions to Chiron are also involved with the healing and transformation of some deep, dark aspects of our shared human experience. They seem to be connected to the ancestral realms and generational healing, something I have seen over and over again in client work. I have found that often the most painful and difficult experiences we go through can only be understood as having a connection to that invisible yet ever present realm of the ancestors. Many people are drawn now to shamanic healing practices and soul retrieval work. Although methods and approaches vary, I have found that the astrological Nessus and Pholus add a profound layer of understanding to the nature of certain types of extraordinary experiences that we have.
Nessus is connected to the ripening of cycles of karma, sometimes with a theme of inappropriate (or what appears to be inappropriate) sexual contact, or physical or psychological abuse.

Melanie Reinhart has a key phrase for Nessus: “The buck stops here.” I had a client recently with transiting Nessus prominent in the horoscope. He is a very skilled energy worker and healer, so I knew we could talk about some of the themes that might be emerging with Nessus so visible in his current life. He actually told me that a large buck had recently been stopping in his yard everyday for what seemed like a rest. (This gentleman has Nessus prominent in the natal chart; that placement, along with me knowing him well, offered on opening to discuss Nessus. It’s not something I typically bring up in a session.)

In myth, Pholus is the guardian of a special wine that gets uncorked, creating a temporarily wildly intoxicating and chaotic situation. It can be seen as describing a process that gets “uncorked” or released, and it cannot be put back. Reinhart says of Pholus: “The lid comes off.”
I had a client this week who has become embroiled in a very difficult and painful situation, marked very poignantly by the presence of both Nessus and Pholus in his key family members’ natal, solar return, and progressed charts. He said, “I just want things to go back to the way they were.”

Pholus is now active by transit. (2) It is currently at 14° Sagittarius, opposed by transiting Mars at 14° Gemini. In this story, things are not going “to go back.” A process has been unleashed and will continue to unfold. The notion of a heretofore hidden ancestral pattern creates a large enough container to help us begin to work with this situation in a way that will hopefully lead to a deep transformation and healing for all involved.

In my own life and listening to clients, I sometimes get the feeling that we are embarking on a massive soul retrieval project on planet earth. Sometimes I think, how much more healing can there possibly be? I’ve found that contemplation of Nessus and Pholus have added a very helpful layer of understanding to our often complex and multi-faceted experiences.

Here are some web sites for those curious to pursue the wild and, at times, marauding and intoxicating centaurs:

Zane Stein has been tracking Chiron since its discovery in 1977.  His site is a vast collection of resources on Chiron and the newly discovered bodies. It’s a big site — to focus on Nessus and Pholus, read his telling of their myths here and here. (links)

His section on Chiron is comprehensive, with contributions from many other writers.

Eric Francis is also a wise and in-the-moment observer of the centaurs. As an introduction, he has a fine piece on Nessus, part of his Small World Stories.

And here’s a link to a recent interview he did with Melanie on Nessus (and another centaur, Asbolus).

And, most currently, here’s Eric’s amazing article on the Casey Anthony case. (This is premium content, posted here courtesy of Planet Waves. Many thanks, Eric.)

Robert von Heeren began The Centaur Research Project in 1997. The site has articles, ephemeredes, and lots of other astronomical and orbital data.

Melanie Reinhart’s site has an easy-to-understand article on Nessus and Pholus, which explains her key phrases. (When you get to the home page, click on articles on the left, then ‘by Melanie Reinhart’, then scroll down to All Change Please.)

The Maverick Medicine Babe has a quote from Melanie’s book on Chiron and other related links.

(1)  Melanie Reinhart has also just published a new (2011) edition of her 1996 book, Saturn, Chiron and the Centaurs: To the Edge and Beyond.

(2)  Donna Cunningham’s new blog is on Jaycee Dugard. The young woman gave an interview on ABC yesterday. “She spoke out just days before her memoir, ‘A Stolen Life,’ is scheduled to be released.”  Dugard Interview ABC.
Although Donna doesn’t include the centaurs in her analysis, their presence is obvious in the nature of her story. If I’m up to it, I may write about it next week.


  1. hi, mary!

    your readers might also like to see my current piece on nessus at daykeeper journal (, which details the centaur’s involvement in the recent spate of sex scandals in may, from strauss-kahn and schwarzenegger to weiner. eric francis first pointed me toward nessus’ connection with inappropriate sexual responses or actions, as you also note, and i have found that to be consistently true.

    briefly, strauss-kahn, accused of raping a housemaid at a NYC hotel, has sun conjunct nessus, and schwarzenegger, whose love child was just revealed, has sun square nessus. both these incidents came to light in may within days, with transit sun and nessus squared. weiner’s cybersex antics became public knowledge at the nessus retrograde station, with the transit sun just hitting his natal nessus, which also squares his natal sun. much more detail in the linked article.

    • Hi Alex,

      So glad you wrote….yes, the sexual thing with Nessus is something I have found as well..(and, also, importantly, sometimes it’s just the appearance of misbehavior)…but these centaurs are fascinating..

      I’m off to read your article now..


  2. Mary, where can I find an ephemeris for Pholus and Nessus? Pholus is currently conjunct my natal Sun with Mars opposite. I would like to know where the two minor planets are in my chart.

  3. For a good discussion of the Centaurs in Greco-Roman myth and subsequent development in the mediaeval period, as well as the use of the mythology in allegorising and spiritualising Neo-Platonic Florentine circles and Baroque art, see Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most and Salvatore Settis, eds., “The Classical Tradition”, Harvard University Press, 2010, with bibliography.

    In origin they are Thessalian cave dwellers, half human, half beast. Thus they represent the identification of the hunter with the beast hunted; the mythogeme of Cheiron as a teacher of youths–Peleus, Achilles, Jason, Actaeon, Meleager and Asclepius is a reflection of the initiation rituals of youths into the Mannerbande of hunters, wherewith the youths become identified with the victim of the hunt and are sexually subdued by the Man-Beast, in an homo-erotic initiation ceremony in a cave, to emerge as hunter-Mench themselves. This is, in itself, a later development, the earlier form being of the sacrifice of a youth to the hunted beast-god [see Walter Burkert, “Homo Necans” University of California Press, 1983, p111-113].

    The identification of Cheiron with “healing” is a overlay from the later legends of Asclepius, the hero-god of healing par excellence in Greek religion. Homer (Iliad 2.832) only identifies Cheiron as “the justest of centaurs” which may be slightly ironic given their reputation as rude masculine beasts, savage, brutal, inclined to excessive drinking, un-inhibited sexual appetites, and outbursts of unthinking violence. (see Sophocles’ “Trachiniae”; Ovid, Metamorphoses 12. 210-535; 9.101-133). Heracles defeats the Centaurs with cruel and vicious violence, as they attempted to rape his wife, Deianeira; he kills Nessus with a single poisoned arrow. Another version of the story has him wound Cheiron with a similar poisoned arrow in his vicious rout of them on Mount Pholoe.

    The image of the good, suffering Cheiron is directly the result of Filippo Lippi’s painting (1500) “Wounded Centaur” and Piero di Cosimo’s depiction of mourning centuars in his “Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs” (1490’s), whilst Michelangelo’s ( ca.1492) shows only the virile and masculine nobility of the beasts in powerful muscular harmony. Erasmus sees (“Adages”) Cheiron as the evil advisor, sensuous and treacherous; Machiavelli (Il Principe) as a model to advocate the use of brute force by princes.

    In sum, there isn’t much sugar and fluffy frosting in the mythology; caveat emptor of astrological fantasies based on smoke clouds of unknowing. One may well be engaged in a viscous circle of name-ology and seeing co-incidences where there is nought but mis-understood myth, and thus make up verisimilitudinous stories. In other words, one must ask oneself, “Am I making this interpretation because of the arbitrary name, based on a mis-understanding of the Greek mythology, or because of hard number-crunched mathematical and empirical observation over time”??

    As physical bodies the Centaurs (there are thousands) may have slipped in from the Kuiper Belt; they have wildly unstable orbits, are not planets, too erratic to be classed as asteroids, and ‘minor planet’ is just a term of confusion. They will, in short astronomical time (several millions of years), either be drawn into the sun or one of the real planets, and crash, or devolve into a short period comet. One of the larger ones is called Chariklo, after the NYMPH who was supposed the wife of Cheiron.


  4. When I think of the Centaurs I think of the Seventies and the time of Chiron’s discovery…and especially the great doomed heroic wounded healer- John Lennon.

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