“Truly, Eris is a goddess to fear.” Euripides, Phoenician Women
Pluto was discovered in 1930 and was considered to be a planet for seventy-six years. Then, along came Eris. At first, she was heralded as the tenth planet, since she is larger than Pluto. But the net result was Pluto’s demotion, the IAU defining a planet for the first time, and the creation of a whole new category of objects in our Solar System—dwarf planets. Astronomers suspect that at least another forty known objects in the Solar System are dwarf planets, and estimate that another 200 dwarf planets may be found as the Kuiper Belt is explored.
Eris is the largest known dwarf planet beyond Neptune and the ninth-largest body known to orbit the Sun directly. Eris was first identified in January 2005 by a Palomar Observatory based team led by astronomer Mike Brown. For awhile she was dubbed Xena, the warrior princess. Eris is also a trans-Neptunian object (TNO) native to a region of space beyond the Kuiper Belt known as the Scattered Disk. Eris and her moon Dysnomia are currently the most distant known objects in the Solar System apart from long-period comets and space probes.
Unlike the eight official planets, whose orbits are fairly circular and lie roughly in the same plane as the Earth’s, Eris orbits above and below the other planets. Like Pluto, she can range from being a great distance from the Sun, to being almost as close to Sun as Neptune. The reason she had not been noticed before is most searches for large outer Solar System objects have concentrated on the ecliptic plane.
In myth, Eris, pronounced Ee-ris, is a Greek goddess who was the personification of discord or strife. Sometimes she is the daughter of the powerful Olympians Zeus and Hera, and brother to Ares (Roman Mars), the god of war. Her name was translated into Latin as Discordia. Her Greek opposite is Harmonia, whose Latin counterpart is Concordia. Homer equated her with the violent war-goddess Enyo, but I believe this is misleading and misrepresents the true nature of Eris.
The Greek poet Hesiod describes two very different goddesses named Eris, or strife, in his Works and Days. “So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two. As for the one, a man would praise her when he came to understand her. But the other is blameworthy, and they are wholly different in nature.” The archaic definition of strife was earnest endeavor, which seems more like honest striving and healthy competition. It is also like the friction which promotes growth. Seen in this way, the principle of discord, or strife, is the motive force of growth which yields the pearl in the oyster.
Eris appears with a different lineage in Hesiod’s Theogony as the daughter of Nyx, “night,” where she and some of her siblings were born without a father. There is a much richer mythic trail to follow here. Nyx, Nox in Roman translation, was the primordial goddess of the night, “a veil of dark mist drawn forth from the underworld which blotted out the shining light of the upper atmosphere.” A shadowy and primeval figure of great beauty and power, Nyx stood at the beginning of creation, making her one of the first beings to emerge from the void. In several fragmentary poems attributed to Orpheus, it is Nyx, rather than Chaos, who is the first principle of creation.
In ancient art Nyx was portrayed as either a winged goddess, or charioteer, sometimes crowned with an aureole of dark mist. In the cosmogony of Hesiod she mated with Darkness Erebos and produced Light Aither and Day Hemera, which were the first components of the primeval universe. Alone, she gave birth to the three Fates, Sleep, Death, Strife (Eris), and Pain.
The goddess Eris, daughter of Nyx, is depicted in art with black wings and was thought to haunt battle fields. Eris shares iconography with winged goddesses from other cultures. In Egypt, the vulture goddess Nekbet was one of the deities on the uraeus headdress of the pharaoh. The Celtic goddess Morrigan could take the form of a raven, a fierce war bird. Morrigan played a key role in the downfall of the hero Culcannon because he rejected her in her Crone aspect, revealing a lack of respect for feminine wisdom. The Celtic Branwen could assume the form of a white raven. The Norse goddess Freya either wore a cloak of falcon feathers, enabling her to fly, or assumed the form of a falcon. The Greek Harpy was once a beautiful maiden called Virgin Eagle. Eris also bears a similarity to one of the oldest goddess archetypes. Six thousand years ago in Sumeria, Inanna was the goddess of love and gifts, but also of war.
One of Eris’s artifacts is the brilliant, and fatally attractive, Golden Apple of Discord. Anyone who saw the shining orb desired it. It’s not clear from mythic fragments how she obtained this priceless artifact, but in old stories around the world it was always a goddess who conferred immortality, usually by virtue of an apple.
Eris is best known for her role, in a plan hatched by Zeus, at the wedding of Peleus and Thetus, who became parents of the hero Achilles. Eris tossed her apple, marked “For the most beautiful one,” into the celebration. Kalliste is the ancient Greek word that was inscribed on the Golden Apple of Discord. In Greek, the word means “beautiful.” Naturally, three mighty goddesses each thought they deserved the golden fruit: Aphrodite, goddess of love; Hera,
Queen of the Olympians; and Athena, grey-eyed goddess of wisdom and war.
Zeus appointed Paris, Prince of Troy, to judge. Hera offered him political power; Athena promised skill in battle; and Aphrodite tempted him with Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world; who was already married to Menelaus of Sparta. Paris chose to award the apple to Aphrodite, thereby dooming his city, and triggering the Trojan War.
It is telling that the story is called The Judgment of Paris. A human man is asked to choose the most “beautiful” from three potent feminine archetypes. In the older stories, it is mortals who must prove themselves, and magical gifts are bestowed by the gods to those who are deemed worthy. Since Euripides, this story concerns a choice among the gifts that each goddess embodies. The subtext of their bribery of Paris was added later.
Do we simply believe that the goddesses were vain and quarrelsome, or is there a deeper lesson contained in this myth? What are the intrinsic qualities of beauty, strength and wisdom which these goddesses characterize? And, what is the cost of looking only at surface appearances? Most importantly, how does the emergence of Eris into our collective psyche impact how we look at feminine archetypes?
The classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, made famous by Disney, was partly inspired by Eris’s role at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. In the Disney version, there are three good fairies, representing the three Fates, and one “bad” fairy who wasn’t invited to the christening. The fairy named Malificent cursed the princess, but the curse was altered from death to a sleep of one hundred years after she pricked her finger on a spinning wheel. The Fates were also daughters of Nyx and were the spinners and weavers, always the domain of the elder Crone.
Eris in Astrology
The orbital plane of Eris is so inclined that her journey around the Sun takes her above and below the orbits of the other planets, so she doesn’t actually move through all of the zodiacal constellations on the ecliptic plane. Symbolically, therefore, she moves beyond the realm of linear time. However, because the signs of the zodiac are measures of time and not space, corresponding to degrees of Celestial Longitude, Eris does visit each of them in turn, spending decades in each sign.
Eris is 27% larger than Pluto, and filled with potent meaning, so it seems she deserves to be considered in the tool box of astrological interpretation. Eris, like Uranus, shakes up the status quo and seems to upset existing structures. She challenges us to look at issues that have been ignored. Eris represents what I think might be called the unpleasant truth. She forces our denial out into the open, pointing out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.
Paris, the mortal in the myth, contemplated the powers of goddesses and chose physical beauty for his own selfish purposes. We are called to look beneath surface appearances and to find inner beauty, strength, and wisdom. This may require disturbing the delicate balance of a long-held illusion. Therefore, in a natal chart, the house Eris occupies may reveal our hidden gifts, which are brought into expression through “strife” or friction, creating a pearl.
The orbit of Eris is long, twice as long as Pluto. Therefore, her influence by transit is multi-generational. Eris is currently at the furthest point from the Sun in her 557-year orbit, roughly three times farther than Pluto, so it’s likely our awareness of her will grow as she heads back around. Eris entered the astrological sign of Aries (not the constellation), early in 1927, in the midst of the Roaring Twenties.
At present, Eris occupies 21 degrees of Aries and will remain in Aries until spring of 2048. Aries, ruled by Mars, is a good place for a goddess who likes to disrupt the status quo. In 1929, after a long battle, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended voting rights to women. (In 1948 women’s right to vote was introduced into international law by the UN.) Eris may in fact represent the Women’s Movement in modern times.
Eris has changed the order of things in the solar system, and she is poised to ask some hard questions. The gods have placed us in the role of Paris. What systemic order needs to be deconstructed in our lives and nations? Where do we bring the hard questions to a conscious level? How do we come to praise the strife which Eris represents, as Hesiod has suggested?
I believe the symbolism of Eris corresponds to the deeper meaning of Sleeping Beauty. The Divine Feminine has slumbered for thousands of years. Until the advent of the asteroid goddesses, there has been an imbalance of planetary gender. Only Venus and the Moon represented the feminine. But this is changing, and as Eris passes through Aries, her apples of discord will likely facilitate a chain reaction as feminine energy is once again arising. If I am correct, and Eris in Aries has helped to facilitate a reawakening of the feminine, then we have two more generations of this influence to experience, observe, and integrate. Hopefully, the human race will become more balanced, conscious, and humane.