I had just made a pilgrimage the scene of my own personal nightmare, a place where I was once taken by the darkness, stripped of illusions, lost my personal power (& almost died): I attended my 20 year High school reunion. Eventually, many years later, I realised I had been under the slow burning influence of Pluto (in Santa Fe, my natal Twelfth House Pluto relocates to my Ascendant) explaining why every time I returned to Santa Fe over the years it was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Case in point: 2001, when I moved back home and got a job waiting tables. Then 9.11 happened. The economy shut down, and wracking up a huge debt, being re-wounded by old but still present family trauma, I left again. After that, I was sure I’d never be back. After that (as one of my high school girlfriend soul mates reminded me this weekend), I declared I will never come back again…at least not without a sage stick. How appropriate that I finally return as Pluto moves stationary-direct. How Pluto.

As we rode into town, we talked about the ritual burn of Zozobra or “Old Man Gloom”. Zozobra has always been an apt effigy for my old school neighborhood of Pluto youth. Zozobra is a giant 6 story paper maiche puppet stuffed with your gloom (divorce papers, old house titles, cancer diagnoses, losses) whose crimes, when ceremoniously read by a ‘judge’ (it’s rigged; Zozobra is always guilty as charged!) are cheered by 25, 000 jury members who are screaming, “Burn him! Burn him!”. If you’re rattled by big crowds of people chanting “burn him!” and creepy giant moaning puppets, it is a little scary. But it’s a tradition, and in the Land of Pluto, you need all of the soul purging you can get. This year, I wondered what I’d burn. Last year I would’ve had a long list, but this year, I said: I want my soul back– the piece I lost touch with when I lost everything twenty years ago.  My Gemini sister mused, Do you think Zozobra can really do that? I replied, I don’t know. But Pluto can.

Once, eyeing my heinous then upcoming Third House Pluto transit, my teacher Steven Forrest suggested that I take a short journey to revisit the literal place of a prior wounding. It was a daunting thought, returning to the scene of the crime. But twenty years after that initial descent, this time I had soul-support of friends. I was now a woman who had experienced many trials by fire, and had become stronger for it. Today, I was a different person.

“The ultimate end game of Pluto is maturity, acceptance and the wisdom that comes from living through a psychic death and rebirth. It’s the inside-out change from facing core fears, and transforming wounds into greatest strengths — and becoming wise old souls.” -Astrologer Molly Hall

“Old Man Gloom” is an apt symbol for Pluto in Capricorn. Pluto retrograde prompts long harrowing inward Pluto work of self-honesty and when Pluto turns direct, all the energy you’ve freed up from doing the inner work during his underworld time now moves out into the world. If you’ve been doing the psychological work of honestly confronting your demons, detoxing your emotional, physical and spiritual bodies and ultimately working on letting go of what you cannot control, Pluto’s change in direction will help you move forward with less baggage, dysfunction & personal power. But if you’re stagnating, holding onto the past, or trying to control the uncontrollable, what Pluto’s blowtorch wielding powers cannot purify or burn can only grow our gloom.

Where’s Old Man Gloom in your life? What is causing you more grief to hold onto and try to control rather than let go?  The area Pluto transits holds a key to your soul: contemplate the alchemy of burning, or a trial by fire to retrieve it. You can perform your own Zozobra ritual at home, stuffing your glooms into a puppet to symbolically turn over a new leaf. To identify where false identities, beliefs, fears could be holding you back from your full expression, and where you’re ready to experience a power surge, look to transiting Pluto. If Pluto is transiting your 2nd house, ancient wounds around financial security may be causing you grief. What belief is controlling your reality here? If Pluto is transiting your 1st house, your self-image, body-image, social persona may need to ‘die’ so you can physically and evolutionarily morph. If Pluto is squaring your Mercury, how have you hidden your voice and perceptions, and at what cost? Astrologer Molly Hall (About.com) has created an excellent Pluto-transit-by-house guide for what Pluto’s deep churning could mean for you right here.

If you need to reclaim or release, create a ritual for Pluto. “Burn him!” From Pluto, we learn that buried underneath our worst nightmare lay the hidden riches. We learn we can feel the burn and rise from the ashes.