The Fall of Detroit

On July 18, 2013 the city of Detroit, Michigan filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy, for a state of this size is unprecedented[1], making it great case for astrological examination.


The chart below corresponds to the date that Detroit’s incorporation as a city became effective.  As with most charts associated with cities, states or countries, the time is unknown.  As a result, all house placements and rulerships are ignored.  While this limits the delineation, valuable insight can still be gained from the sign positions of the planets as well as their relationship (i.e. aspects) with each other.


The focal point of this chart is the Pluto opposition to the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction.  Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions are major astrological events that occur once every twenty years.  From an archetypal perspective, Jupiter corresponds with expansion and vision while Saturn represents the discipline and reality required to bring it about.  It is obvious why this combination has been traditionally associated with business success, but with this unique case there are some complications.

  • The conjunction is positioned within Virgo, the sign of Jupiter’s detriment. This debilitation will hinder Jupiter’s ability to function and limit its effectiveness.
  • Both planets are retrograde. This status has a tendency to reverse or “take away” whatever is manifested by the planetary archetype.
  • The conjunction is opposed by Pluto, a karmic astrological body most closely associated with the concept of debt.

These factors paint a picture of an economy with a potential to fluctuate heavily based on the challenges posed by its debt.  If balance (opposition) isn’t maintained, then there is a high probability that its success will come crashing down (retrograde), leaving hard lessons and austere realities (Saturn-Pluto).  For a city that has been recognized amongst the major metropolitan, financial sectors, what has historically contributed to mediating the challenges of the Pluto-Jupiter-Saturn alignment and why has that assistance failed recently?  For the former, there are two reasons:

Mars in Capricorn

Mars represents the archetype of energy, work and drive.  Capricorn represents a focus on goals, discipline and achievement.  These dynamics are supportive of each other, so it is easy to see how Mars is “strong” in this sign.  In Capricorn, the Martian energy is directed, productive, effective and efficient.  It gets things done.  Most importantly, Mars is forming trine and sextile aspects to both sides of Detroit’s major oppositional axis.  The harmonious nature of these aspects along with Mars’ inherent strength are major areas of assistance and relief to Detroit’s challenges of balancing debt with business growth and achievement.


Traditionally, the planet Mercury is representative of automobiles.  Here, it is conjunct the Sun, a major expression of identity.  While the placement within Aquarius gives the relationship a progressive demeanor, it is the trine aspect to the Ceres-Uranus-Pallas stellium that underscores how technological innovation (Uranus) and strategy (Pallas) dovetails (trine) with the manufacturing of automobiles (Mercury).  Ceres’ involvement shows how Detroit has reaped the rewards of these inherent talents.[2]  Holistically, these dynamics are not only intimately intertwined with Detroit’s character, but also a major source of strength.

Secondary Progressions

In order to answer the second part of the question above, we’ll need to digress just a bit and discuss an astrological measurement methodology known as secondary progressions.  The standard method of evaluating changes to an individual or entity involves measuring planetary transits, confirming the actual or current movements or positions of the planets in the sky[3] and analyzing their relationships to the positions of the planets to a fixed chart (i.e. natal chart).  Progressions are a bit more complicated in that the movement or planetary positions are not actual, but symbolic.  With progressions, each day after the “birth” of the individual or entity are equated to one year of actual life.[4]  So for an individual, there are roughly 70-80 days of planetary movement that can be measured for the course of a life.  As a result, planetary movement under secondary progressions are so slow that the outer planets from Jupiter through Pluto are usually ignored as their movement throughout the course of a life is negligible.  But, when measuring progressions for an entity like a city, state or country, the outer planets are fair game as the “life” of an entity can be much longer than that of an individual.

There is an historic observation of the inverse relationship between the speed of a planetary body and its corresponding impact on events.  In other words, the slower the planetary body, the bigger the impact.[5]  Since all progression movement is slow, their impacts equate to that of the transiting outer planets.  By this rationale, the impact of the outer planets under progressions are unprecedented.  Which brings us to…


The bi-wheel below contains the progressed positions of the planets at the time of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing.  From the outer wheel, retrograde Pluto is only nine minutes away from making an exact opposition with Saturn.  According to Robert Hand,

“Under this transit you will experience changing circumstances and situations that may force you to surrender many things – material goods, relationships, principles – that you have previously held on to.  You will probably resist these ‘losses’, which is how you will experience them, with great tenacity and stubbornness.  You will need great discipline under this transit, because you may not have any resources to waste and you may be forced to do as much as possible with very little.”[6]

This is Detroit’s over-arching theme, the defining, singular challenge to its existence and while the quality of this contact is similar for transits and progressions, its impact differs by degree.  Since progressions are slower they tend to carry a bigger impact and since Pluto is the slowest of all the planetary bodies, this impact is massive.  Regardless, this theme would not manifest by itself.  It needed a trigger and the outer planet transits provided that spark.

detroit progressed2


The second chart below contains the positions of transiting planets at the time of the bankruptcy filing.  The most immediate observation is that Neptune is adding the same pressure as progressed Pluto.  Challenging aspects from Neptune tend to correspond with a sense of disenchantment and disorientation and its opposition to Saturn can specifically correspond to an acute sense of fear or depression.  There is little debate that the mood of Detroit has been relatively sour as of late, but it shouldn’t be ignored that this specific combo (i.e. progressed Pluto, transiting Neptune) last occurred around 1850 and did not result in dire circumstances equivalent to this crisis.[7]  One major reason for this was because the following major outer planetary aspect was not in alignment in 1850.

Uranus-Pluto Square

The square aspect between Uranus and Pluto is the defining major archetypal dynamic of this generation.  It has corresponded with the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the rise of the Tea Party, and the Black Lives Matter movement.  While this uprising (Uranus) has consolidated against inequality and Plutocracy[8], it should be emphasized that this struggle was largely initiated by the financial crisis that occurred as Pluto entered the sign of Capricorn.  This crisis hit Detroit hard and is reflected by Uranus-Pluto’s alignment (i.e. square, conjunction) with Mars.  Historically, Detroit’s productive Mars has been one of the strongest parts of the chart, providing the means to balance and alleviate any debt challenges.  But, with Mars under attack, the means of production dried up, tax revenue disappeared and Detroit lost the ability to pay its bills.  The additional weight and friction from transiting Mars’ opposition and transiting Saturn’s square to Detroit’s Venus and Sun was the final blow, pushing Detroit past its breaking point.

detroit transits2

The Prognosis

The good news is that the Uranus-Pluto square and Neptune transit have already moved on, so that may relieve a bit of pressure.  Unfortunately, progressed Pluto’s tightening opposition to Saturn will go exact around 2020 and remain tight for the remaining decade, but from 2022-2024, the following heavy transits will set the stage for the next phase of this crisis:

  • Pluto conjunct the Moon
  • Saturn square Neptune
  • Saturn opposite Jupiter-Saturn
  • Uranus opposite Neptune

While these are not easy aspects, I don’t think they represent a complete urban collapse.  The Moon represents the general public, so the Pluto conjunction represents the public’s acceptance of major transformation in order to survive.  The Saturn contacts represent how Detroit is accepting the hard reality of making tough decisions to address their debt problems.  The Uranus opposition may force a restructuring in order to gain some stability (Taurean placement).

For the rest of the 2020’s, Pluto will continue a long journey through Detroit’s Moon-Venus-Sun-Mercury stellium.  This journey will be beneficial as it will simultaneously form trine aspects to Detroit’s Ceres-Uranus-Pallas stellium as well as complete another trine to transiting Uranus.[9]  In other words, the planets associated with rebirth (Pluto) and technological breakthroughs (Uranus) are contributing to a grand trine involving Detroit’s inherent talent and identity with technology.  Normally, grand trine configurations have a tendency toward complacency due to the easy, unchallenging nature of the involved archetypes, but transiting Uranus’ square aspect to Detroit’s Pluto-Jupiter-Saturn opposition will provide the motivation to actualize the intellectual[10], innovative dynamics.  This grand trine powered t-square is powerful and may have the strength to revitalize Detroit’s economy with technology and automobile manufacturing.

I apologize to those looking for a quicker fix to this problem, but it shouldn’t be understated how Detroit spent decades digging itself into this hole.  It should not be a surprise that they may not be able to dig their way out immediately.  If Detroit is going to experience a rebirth it will start in 2022-2024 and pick up steam throughout the rest of the decade.

End Notes

[1] To date, it is the largest public filing for a city in the history of the United States.

[2] Ceres is also representative of labor unions.  Its conjunction with Uranus reflects the revolutionary nature unions have had on Detroit’s automobile industry and its placement within Libra reflects the nature of “fairness” it promotes.

[3] An ephemeris is used to confirm the positions of planetary bodies.  Also, the various chart tools available on are invaluable and free.

[4] For a child born on 2/1/06, the positions of the planets on 2/11/06 would represent their “current” progressed positions as of the child’s ten year birthday on 2/1/16.

[5] Transits from the Moon are barely felt, while the impact of a Pluto transit can be life changing.

[6] Robert Hand, Planets in Transit: Life Cycles for Living, Whitford Press, 1976, p.510.

[7] But, the Stroh Brewing Company was formed in 1850, providing another legitimate manifestation of the Neptune archetype (i.e. alcohol).  It is possible that progressed Pluto’s direct motion and waning opposition to Saturn improved the probability of a positive Neptune manifestation.

[8] I challenge the reader to find a more archetypally resonant descriptor than “Plutocracy”.

[9] I predict that the Pluto-Uranus trine in the late 2020’s will be a major topic of discussion and analysis amongst the astrological community.  The fact that it will align supportively with Detroit’s chart after these two planets contributed to its destruction (i.e. square) is redemptive.

[10] This grand trine is in the air element, producing a more cerebral, intellectual quality.  Given Detroit’s inherent structure and history, it is possible that this could manifest as innovations in automobile design.

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