Pluto in Mythology

Orpheus and Eurydice in Pluto's realm
Leemage/Getty Images

AKA Hades

The planet Pluto was discovered in 1930, and recently re-classified by astronomers of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as a dwarf planet known formally as 134340 Pluto. It was astronomers who originally named Pluto, out of which the astrological myths are drawn. Pluto comes from a Latinized form of the Greek Ploutōn, an alias of Hades. Its astrological influence, as the wielder of dark justice, mirrors these ancient myths of Pluto (Roman) and its Greek doppelganger Hades.

Pluto's Other Names:

  • Clymenus (notorious)
  • Eubuleus (well-guessing)
  • The Wealthy One
  • The Hospitable One
  • Polydegmon (The Receiver of Many Guests)
  • Lord of Death
  • Pluton, (the Rich One)

Both Pluto and his mythic counterpart, Hades, share the distinction of being Lord of the Underworld. This is quite a rich domain full of hidden treasures (all things hidden in the psyche and Earth). The Greek word for wealth is ploutos, and rulership by the wealthy is a plutocracy.

In Greek myths, Hades was the son of Cronus and Rhea and didn't live on Mount Olympus with the other Gods. He divvied up the universe with his younger brothers Zeus and Poseidon, and his domain was the nether regions.

Terrible Power

In ancient Greece and Rome, the true name of the ruler of the underworld was not uttered. This was out of reverence for its fearsome power, and so the deity would not be evoked. Hades means “invisible” or “unseen”—it's both the keeper of and the name given by the Greeks to the death realms.

Hades was asked to be an attendant in funeral rituals, but otherwise, not directly courted. The ancient Greeks saw Hades as the arbiter of justice. He was asked to avenge crimes against the deceased, in particular if the beloved dead's name had been blackened. Hades dealt with defamation and dishonor and could bring a reckoning to murderers, as well.

As the dweller in the dark, Hades fears no mortal, and all succumb to his power. That's why he's invoked against perps that try to play God, or consider themselves above the universal laws. Some examples might be politicians who start wars, agents who conspire in the shadows to commit terror attacks, mob bosses, drug lords).

Pluto/Hades is a God of last resort, called on by those who already feel they've lost everything. Its realm is extreme transformation, and those in states of agony, despair, grief—that have crossed the threshold into the underworld—find an ally when they're on their knees. When you've lost your fear of dying, you are ready to meet the purifying fires of Pluto/Hades.

The Underworld Realm

The Greek myth is that the dying are brought by Hermes to the banks of the River Styx. The boatman Charon was given a coin to ferry them across the river. That's why many ancient Greeks were buried with a coin in their mouths.

The gates of Hades are guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog. According to the myth, he's friendly and wags his tail to welcome you. But if you try to return to the land of the living, he'll turn vicious and devour you. There's no turning back on the journey to the underworld until the death/rebirth process is complete.

The Underworld is not "hot as Hades" like hell depicted in the Christian tradition. It's a pastoral landscape, with rivers—one known as River Lethe, or "Oblivion"—alongside which the most recent life could be forgotten. There are many areas within Hades, some pleasant like the Elysian Fields, or the Fields of Asphodel. There were darker regions, however, for those that had violated divine law or got on Zeus' bad side.

Pluto and Proserpina

A nearly exact myth to the Greek Hades/Persephone story is that of Pluto and Proserpina in Roman myth. Venus sent her son Amor (a.k.a. Cupid) to shoot a love arrow at Pluto, and open his heart to l' amour. Just as Pluto came out of the volcano Etna riding four black horses, he saw Proserpina playing with nymphs at the fountain of Arethusa near Enna.

Just as Hades did with Persephone, Pluto carried off Proserpina so he could marry her and live together in Hades. Proserpina became the Queen of the Underworld. She was also Pluto's niece since she was the daughter of Pluto's siblings Jupiter and Ceres.

Ceres (Demeter) Looks for Proserpina

Proserpina's mother Ceres scoured the Earth looking for her daughter but to no avail. All she found was Proserpina's small belt (made from nymph's tears) floating on a lake. In her grief and rage, Ceres stopped the fruits and vegetables from growing and cursed Sicily. This led to a dark period when everything green died, and Sicily became cold and dark.

On top of that, Ceres did not return to Mount Olympus, home of the Gods, but wandered the Earth in her bereft state. She left a desert in her wake. The people were alarmed that nothing was growing, many were starving, and they appealed to Jupiter (Proserpina's father) for help.

Jupiter sent Mercury to the underworld, to try to free Proserpina. But by then, she had eaten six pomegranate seeds, and so was forced to stay, having tasted the fruits of that realm. Jupiter threw his weight around, demanding her return. So Pluto made a deal, saying since she took six pomegranate seeds, she'd have to stay with him six months out of the year. So each Spring, Ceres gets her daughter back, the crops come to fruition, and flowers bloom. But in autumn, by Ceres hand, the leaves turn to browns and oranges, in a display that's a gift to Proserpina before her descent back to the underworld.

Pluto's Power

Pluto rules the shadowlands and presides over times of extreme transformation. Among those times, physical death is the top one, and for Romans, Pluto was the god of the dead, terminally ill and those mortally wounded in battle.

Pluto's discovery paralleled the development of the atom bomb. The compressed power unleashed by atomic weapons now looms as a terrifying image in the collective imagination. It's a threat of total annihilation.

And yet, Pluto's power to destroy is what opens the door to rebirth. It's symbolic of extreme events that change our lives and expose core realities. The discovery of Pluto also coincided with the ascent of psychotherapy, where healing comes from bringing secrets into the open.