Pluto factor heralds world of difference in stars

Astrological epoch: Time for reflection as star-gazers greet 13 year period of transition
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Today heralds the dawn of a new era - or so astrologers say. According to their bible, Raphael's Ephemiris, at precisely 7.39pm last night Pluto moved into Sagittarius. Astrologers call it the "Pluto factor" and revere it as a titanic transition. It is a time for reflection: a time to look back and, as only astrologers know how, forward.

Pluto's sojourn in Sagittarius will last 13 years and no doubt the world will look a very different place by 2008. Astrologers are making out a case for cause and effect but, at the other end of the cosmic spectrum, sceptics are unimpressed.

Russell Grant, president emeritus of the British-Psychic Society (known as BAPS), and Daily Mirror astrologer, chose a lavatorial metaphor to illustrate the change. Listening to him you could be forgiven for thinking Pluto was moving into Uranus. "Pluto is a very anal planet. I think Pluto moving into Sagittarius is going to be like colonic irrigation of the mind," said the astrologer who claims his recent bout of bronchitis has "everything" to do with Pluto.

Joking apart, Uranus is in fact a major player in this cosmic upheaval, but not until the New Year.

Jonathan Cainer, the Daily Mail's astrologer, sounded a note of caution: "Nothing will happen overnight. The curtain has been raised on a new scene but the drama hasn't yet begun. We're excited because we can hear the overture. Astrologers the length and breadth of the world will be gathering together, swapping thoughts and refining their ideas this weekend."

For Shelley von Strunckel, Sunday Times and Evening Standard astrologer, the Pluto effect has already kicked in. "As the Scorpionic period has ended, the Sagittarian has slipped in with an unhappy explosion reflected in events like the assassination of Rabin." In the new epoch, terrorism, pollution, Aids, street crime and sexual scandals are "out", while fundamentalism, a new internationalism and an increased understanding of the importance of education are "in", according to Miss von Strunckel's astrological charts.

Mr Grant emphasised that he is apolitical even though his predictions relate to political events. "I was just listening to the news with the Chancellor talking about tax cuts. I have a feeling that because of this raising of consciousness caused by Pluto's transition into Sagittarius, any government that goes to the polls on tax cuts will come a cropper."

Meanwhile, astronomers are dismissing the Pluto factor as bunkum. In their book, Pluto is moving on the border between Libra and Ophiuchus. Dr Jacqueline Mitton, a spokeswoman for the Royal Astronomical Society, said: "Saying Pluto is moving into the astrological sign of Sagittarius is not significant for astronomers because astrologers use completely different constellations. We use the constellations as ways of identifying different passages of the sky and don't believe they have any significance for human affairs."

Astrologer Robert Currie, 40, who owns a London astrology shop, Equinox, reports an upsurge in customers. "It may be that people have read about the change or they intuitively feel there is a change and want to find out about it," he said.