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Orcus opposite Neptune: then and now

Between now and September 2016, Saturn applies to a square with Neptune, a 36-year cycle that makes a hard, 4th harmonic contact every nine years. The received wisdom about this difficult combination is that it serves as a “reality check” in human affairs. It’s time to take off those rose-tinted spectacles and get real! Your flight of fancy goes into flat spin, and here’s a massive wet blanket for good measure!

Well, that’s true enough, Saturn does have a deleterious effect on Neptune. But at the same time, that sobering quality serves our best interests by restoring balance to our idealism. If we are to be adepts of the arcane, then we must be practical adepts, or there’ll be no pudding! We all have a good idea of just how the perfect pudding must be constituted, right? But it’s not much use if nobody knows how to make decent custard. So we have to get busy with eggs and flour, and whatever other ingredients are in that vision of gastronomic nirvana, and make it happen! And we’re going to have a few flat pancakes along that road, because experience isn’t worth experiencing without a few failures. The trick of the Saturn-Neptune square, then, is to not take the un-risen cakes and the hard-as-tack biscuits to heart. Eventually, with practice, effort, and dedication, we can realise our dream — and with extra Crème Anglaise.

But that’s only one side of the conundrum of a Saturn-Neptune square, because Neptune works on Saturn too. I see this most often in the principle of undermining authority. Take a look at 1783, when Saturn was in his prime in Capricorn and square Neptune (only the second time in over 300 years that a Saturn in outright dignity has squared Neptune), and you’ll note that —despite the fact that the United States declared independence in 1776 — this was the year that Great Britain actually signed off on the whole independence deal. King George’s formidable authority was finally undermined by Neptune’s vision of a better, more equal society. Only 12 days after the crucial middle pass of this intimidating square, the Treaty of Paris was signed.

So, on the whole, this is a tricky, but not impossibly daunting, aspect that forces us to put in hard work to manifest our dreams, which also has a tendency to challenge orthodox positions and authorities; that challenge is not born out of pure malcontent, however, but rather because we see a better possibility. With Saturn in Sagittarius and Neptune in Pisces, there is a decidedly religious flavour to the square — Saturn organises Neptune’s spiritual quality into a religious vein. So, on the whole, this is a sobering and challenging aspect that requires hard work and patience to actualise, but it’s not necessarily extreme.

Except, that’s not the whole story, because Neptune has been opposing the Plutino named Orcus for several years. (1)

For an Orcus primer, it’s key to understand that Orcus is a Hadean archetype, and, alongside Ixion and Pluto, completes a trinity of mostly unconscious, often challenging drives and compulsions, which, through their deteriorating influence on our human condition, gradually help to bring us to self-awareness. Where Pluto is intense and personal and represents the compulsion to attempt control of situations and people in our lives, Orcus is detached and impersonal and attempts to manage challenging circumstances, not with Pluto’s habitual power struggle and its attendant unpleasantnesses, such as humiliation and subjugation, but rather through cold, inhuman disinterest. In archetypal terms, Pluto is the Mafia boss pulling everyone’s strings and Orcus is his henchman and willing executioner with a heart of stone. Pluto is impassioned, Orcus passionless. Orcus rules extreme human qualities: the determination to survive in pitiless conditions, as well as the drive to overcome all odds in sports. (For example, Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson both evince strong Orcus signatures.) Orcus has a strong correlation with oaths, and, when negative, rules swindlers and liars, while when positive, persons of integrity. Keywords for Orcus: integrity, authenticity (2), implacability, ruthlessness, loneliness, isolation, “dark night of the soul,” alienation, meditation and prayer, spiritual depth, determination, diehard, unbreakable, detached, merciless, inhumane, cruel.

The Orcus-Neptune opposition came into play tentatively in 2008, and has been with us ever since. Neptune moved into a three-degree opposition with Orcus in May 2008 before separating. (The closest application was on May 21, 2008, with Neptune at 24°14’ Aquarius and Orcus at 27°59’ Leo.)

And what’s more, this opposition will still be making waves until well into 2019, when Neptune and Orcus will still be within orb. In this astrologer’s view, this is one of the most profound and influential aspects of our times, and its repercussions will be with us for many years to come.

Let’s explore the broader themes of the Neptune-Orcus contact. Orcus, now in Virgo, struggles in this sign because the extremism and implacability of this Hadean energy is applied to details, to the accounts (just look at the concept of austerity to get a sense of this), to the broad masses (Virgo and the 6th house rules the working class), to nursing, the police, postal workers, doctors, Baghdad, Iraq in general, trades unions, libraries, Paris, charities, teachers, and the entire principle of welfare. Orcus in Virgo pushes all of these ideas, groups, and institutions to their absolute limits.

Neptune rules, among other things, spiritual principles and impersonal idealism. So if we apply Orcus’ implacable and extreme tendencies to Neptune, we are presented with extreme spiritual ideals, and inhumane, often cruel, ideologies, but also, when in opposition, a kind of dogged, unbending determination to stand against spiritual or religious dogmas and accepted ideological positions.

Currently then, we can see the rise of ISIS as a manifestation of the Neptune–Orcus opposition. ISIS is considered to be a radical offshoot of the Islamic faith. It’s not the first radical, religious splinter group the world has seen, but it is among the most extreme. It’s interesting that the ideological schism that has opened up between radical and moderate Islam is based, for the most part, on a single verse of the Quran, the so-called Verse of the Sword:

“But when the forbidden months are past,
then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them,
and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war);
but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them:
for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”

Taken alone, the verse seems to encourage Muslims to take up arms against non-Muslims. This single verse has been used by extremist groups such as ISIS as a call to Jihad, and is more or less the sole justification for their armed and violent struggle against non-believers, despite the fact that there are hundreds of verses in the Quran that contradict the Verse of the Sword, charging Muslims to live in peace with people of all faiths.

And further, when placed in context, the Verse of the Sword is speaking about a particular incident where a group of non-Muslim Arabs broke a covenant with Mohammed, who offered them amnesty if they should convert to Islam. Were they to resume hostilities, however, Muslims were charged with putting them to the sword. Taken out of context, the verse seems to approve of a wider armed struggle against all non-Muslims, but when put back into context, the verse’s true meaning is entirely unambiguous: that this instruction relates to a specific historical circumstance.

But here, Orcus’ inhumanity is let loose through the nitpicking partiality of his Virgo placement. It is a lawyer’s device that serves as a pretext for unleashing the Orcan mandate upon the world. It’s interesting to note that the first mention of ISIS was reported in May 2007: “A radical plan by Al-Qaeda to take over the Sunni heartland of Iraq and turn it into a militant Islamic state once American troops have withdrawn is causing alarm among US intelligence officials.” (4) In November 2007, Orcus made its first ingress into Virgo.

So we see the cerebral effect of Orcus in Virgo on the broadly peaceable Neptune-in-Pisces movement of Islam. The Neptune-Orcus opposition has been in effect since the mid 2000s, when Orcus was at 25° Leo, but made first partile contact in April 2012 at 27°59’ Leo. (5) This was the first of nine oppositions that will continue until January 13, 2016, a few hours after the first ominous transiting Pluto square to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s natal Sun. (6) Most partile contacts were accompanied by jihadi atrocities. (For example, on the day of the middle pass — the fifth of nine — on February 24, 2014, the militant terrorist group Boko Haram massacred 59 boarding school pupils in Nigeria.) (7)

So we can see that it is irrefutably an Orcan dynamic that is driving religious and militant extremism in the world today. What we are seeing is a fanatical challenge to Islamic orthodoxy such as has never been seen before, and, as a result, it is unlikely that the Islamic world will ever be the same again.

But such schisms are not without precedent. If we travel back in time to the last series of Neptune–Orcus oppositions, we find ourselves in the early 16th century. And if we look at the last time Saturn exactly squared Orcus while Orcus opposed Neptune, forming a loose NE/OR = SA midpoint and t-square (8), we find ourselves at the 11th of September 1514: four days before Thomas Wolsey was made Archbishop of York, an accession that presaged the struggle with Rome and the eventual English Reformation. Echoing the contemporary darkness that engulfs Syria and Iraq, a period of struggle ensued between Protestant reformers and the Orthodox Church, during which many were branded heretics and burned or beheaded. It was a time of violence, darkness, and cruelty, much of it motivated by divisions over scriptural meaning and the interpretation of God’s will. In 1517, Martin Luther published his 95 theses and nailed them to Wittenberg’s infamous church door, just as Neptune moved into opposition with Orcus. This previous series of oppositions between these distant behemoths occurred in the latter degrees of Leo–Aquarius. There was a battle between the central Papal authority (Leo) and the Reformists, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, who wanted to make church doctrine available to all the people of the church (Aquarius).

But even so, the Reformation didn’t fully take hold until Orcus moved into Virgo on October 22, 1522 — a much more difficult placement for the Hadean planet of extremism and defiance. The cerebral effect of Virgo creates the tendency to adhere to the letter of the law, in defiance of its spirit. We note that 1523 was the year that Anne Boleyn first caught Henry’s roving eye. A study of the English Reformation begins with Henry’s assertion that his marriage to Catherine was blighted in the eyes of God. Henry, who had entered into a levirate marriage with his brother Arthur’s widow — as cited in Leviticus 20:21: “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonoured his brother. They will be childless.”

Much of the history of the English, and indeed the wider European Reformation, centred upon a highly nuanced deconstruction of law, scripture, and doctrine. Oaths were demanded and variously refused or sworn. Positions became entrenched, undermined, and retaken. Religious and political luminaries were variously beheaded and burned. An archetypally Orcan lack of compromise became characteristic of the entire debate over the future of Christendom.

So let us return at last to the square of Saturn to Neptune. The dispiriting pressure of Neptune undermines the organising quality of Saturn, making progress more difficult under this influence. Extra effort is required even when results are already slow to manifest. Indeed, a common experience of a Saturn–Neptune transit is to have to work twice as hard as usual just to stand still. Inevitably, this begets suffering, and suffering is therefore the key quality of this combination. At the same time, shifting to a non-attached perspective becomes harder, because we have to satisfy Saturn’s demand for hard work, responsibility, and patience in order to get Neptune’s redemption, relief, and absolution.

Saturn also formalises Neptune’s spiritual dimension; a good example of this is where laws might be made that dictate spiritual policy. As an example, note how the Saturn–Neptune square of May 23, 1532, finalised a series of legislations brought by Henry’s enforcer, Thomas Cromwell, to curb the power of the Catholic Church. On May 15th, just eight days before this final Saturn-Neptune square, the Submission of the Clergy decreed that the King was supreme over the church, and the power of Rome in English society was irreparably broken. At the ingress of the next series of Saturn-Neptune squares, in December 1538, Henry was excommunicated, and by its completion, Henry and Cromwell had together completed the dissolution of the monasteries.

So, taken together, we can see that the normal function of Saturn and Neptune is challenging enough, but when Orcus is thrown into the pot, the resulting gruel makes for a repast so unpalatable that only the strongest stomachs might digest it.

In the context of today, while there are different players, each with their unique exits and entrances, the broad themes are no different than those that caused the cataclysm of a half millennium ago. The theological and scriptural impasse is repeated. The burnings and the beheadings go on. Empires are threatened and great leaders weave tangled webs as history repeats itself. And the great opposition will occur once more — on January 13, 2016, to be precise — making a final t-square to Saturn in the process. The Islamic Reformation seems to be done, and all that remains is for hearts to harden and the dreadful apportioning of judgement to be meted out, on both sides, for, what is the stamping out of jihad if not the new crusades? In the purview of Neptune, Saturn makes doctrine and Orcus makes extremism. The resultant mix requires handling with extreme caution.


(1) Editor’s note: “Orcus, discovered in 2004, is a transneptunian object known as a Plutino. This is a category of celestial bodies, first described in 1993, which are smaller than Pluto and follow a similar orbit.” (From Mary Plumb’s review of Jeremy Neal’s book, Orcus, TMA 10/13.)

(2) The sign and house of natal Orcus is where you learn to create authenticity in your life, often starting out from a weak position, but learning integrity and depth in this area.

(3) Wikipedia

(4) “Al-Qaeda planning militant Islamic state within Iraq” Sunday Times.

(5) The exact dates of the Neptune–Orcus opposition: April 7, 2012; July 17, 2012; March 15, 2013; August 15, 2013; February 24, 2014; November 9, 2014; February 5, 2015; October 7, 2015; January 13, 2016.

(6) David Cameron, October 9, 1966, 6:00 a.m., London, England. Rodden Rating: A.

(7) Reuters

(8) On September 11, 1514, Neptune was at 15°39′ Aquarius, Orcus at 21°38′ Leo, and Saturn at 21°38′ Scorpio.

Bio: Jeremy Neal is an astrologer living in Durham, England. He is the author of Orcus (reviewed in TMA 10/13), available via Amazon in paperback or Kindle. See Jeremy’s blog: The Chirotic Journals


  1. Thank you, Jeremy, for this very interesting look at the role of Orcus in world events!

  2. Love this global overview. I can see that it also has a tremendous impact on individuals with an emphasis on Virgo. Thanks.

    • It does right now and will do for many years, but any early mutable planets are getting a good going over right now. It’s a case of get real or get lonely I think. Of course Orcus has been for many years working his way through Leo. I think it’s massively significant that those born between 46 and 47 had the triple whammy of Saturn conjunct Pluto, Orcus conjunct Uranus and Ixion conjunct Neptune. No wonder there are so many powerfully motivated and powerful individuals born at that time. It’s like a who’s who of ambition!

  3. I thank you as well Jeremy. Understanding the role of Orcus clarifies how he fits into the mutable grand cross between the U.S. (Sibly version) natal Uranus at 8+ Gemini opposite transiting Saturn in Sagittarius, who both square transiting Neptune in Pisces opposite transiting Orcus in Virgo.

    Transiting Orcus stationed retrograde about a week ago and this powerful process was expressed in the U.S. political game we call the Presidential election primary season. I’m grateful to finally have a handle on Orcus and look forward to more understanding of this symbol in future astrological settings.

    • The US chart is one of the most fascinating studies for Orcus going. Indeed I wrote a whole chapter on it in my book on Orcus. The closest aspect in the chart is Orcus square Uranus. I’m fascinated by the way in which America has such an unusual, and often quite cerebral (Ur) approach to incarceration (Or). And whenever there’s a major Orcus transit to a US planet, something major happens: like the assassination of JFK, Watergate, Pearl Harbour, you name it. So you’re spot on here: Orcus affects US destiny possibly more than most other planets because it is so tightly tied into the chart.

  4. How does one assign meaning to an object discovered so recently?

    • Yes, it’s quite recently discovered, I think 2004, so 11 years now. I can say that discovering Orcus’ meaning wasn’t easy but I became interested when Orcus transited my natal Jupiter in 2008 and I had some interesting dreams about stuff that I couldn’t explain. After that moment of inspiration it was just hard work. I read everything I could in the mythological and classical sources for about two years and looked at probably tens of thousands of charts. It was Stacey Keach who got it all started. He has Sun conjunct Orcus – in Gemini, within a degree or so, and I watched an interview with him where he talked about his acting a ‘trilogy of prison wardens’ and how that had kind of become his identity. It was just too perfect. But yes, the short answer is: an astonishing amount of research!

  5. Thank you Jeremy I have an ingrained prejudice about these small bodies but you have really demonstrated how they work. Setting the present turmoil in comparison with the Reformation makes a lot of sense. There was then and is now no rational explanation for the cruelty. Extremism on one side or the other. Or both. The astrology you have explained just works.

    • Thanks Kate. Normally I would agree wholeheartedly about the smaller bodies, but I think Orcus, being only slightly smaller than Pluto and having a similar orbit makes a good exception. We all know how much of a big hitter for his size Pluto is! I find that Orcus helps to explain so much in our astrological insights. But I think more astrologers need to be working with him for his true influence to be appreciated.

  6. Jeremy, did you know Kate is my sister? And an excellent astrologer with a deep appreciation of history..

    I am so moved by your article, thank you again!

    Deep Solstice Peace to you and yours..

    • Thanks Mary, I didn’t know that, but the name is a clue. How fortunate you are to have someone in your family with whom you can share a high level of astrological understanding. It must be wonderful.

  7. This is fascinating, and especially illuminating with the historical comparison of “Henry’s Time”. The incredible cruelties during those vicious and petty religious disputes – I’ve looked and looked at the planet positions and cycles of 500 years ago, knowing I was missing something – and this unlocks it.
    This final opposition coincides with the US presidential choice also, can you offer your insight here?

    • It’s not a situation I’ve looked at closely, but it does seem ominous don’t you think. The USA has a rough road ahead I’d guess, with an Orcus return in 2019 (at Orcus’ aphelion, which occurred 1776 of course and again in 2019.) And the US Pluto return isn’t too far away either. That’s when things will get, shall we say, interesting?

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