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Concepts & Theory

Mercury as Final Dispositor

Mercury as Final Dispositor
Its Meaning in the Horoscope

By Glenn Perry


Mercury as Final Dispositor
     Mercury the Messenger God
Student: I know you have Mercury as final dispositor in your chart. Could you provide some examples as to how you’ve experienced that?

Glenn: As we’ve discussed in class, a final dispositor is a planet that disposes the longest chain of planets in the chart. By definition a final dispositor is in its own sign; thus, no planet can dispose of it. It’s the end of the line, the final cause of the chart, that for the sake of which other things happen. A final dispositor is like a lake into which flows a river that has been fed by multiple tributaries. The longer the chain of planets, the more powerful the river that flows into the final dispositor, wherein the energy pools and deepens over time.
Any planet in its own sign feels like a hand in a glove; it functions in a pure, effortless way. Of course, aspects and house position make a contribution, too, and can present different types of challenges. With Mercury in Gemini as the final dispositor of my chart, I’ve always been an insatiable, lifelong learner.
There are so many fascinating things to know. My idea of heaven is lying in a hammock under a shady tree on a warm sunny day with several books I can peruse to my pleasure. No doubt this reflects Mercury Gemini in the 2nd house.
But because my Mercury conjuncts Mars and Uranus, I was always frustrated in school for not being able to study what was actually of interest to me. Uranus and Mars both have an element of independence and freedom — liberation from prevailing structures (Uranus) and freedom (Mars) to act in accord with personal impulses and wishes. I resented having to study subjects that had no appeal. It was more than boring; it was like a strait jacket!
I always felt that my real education started after I finished undergraduate school, since I could finally start studying what I wanted to learn. For me, being in graduate school was like being able to dine every night at a posh restaurant. That’s when my love of learning really blossomed. Even now, independent, self-motivated learning is something to which I strongly relate. And that’s a part of what I’ve tried to incorporate into my online school.
With Mercury in the 2nd house, storing information is important, as in building a library and having lots of bookshelves, file cabinets and computer files. My Word files are quite complex, and people who see my computer often comment on how many folders I have. But, of course, that’s what Mercury-Gemini likes to do: label, classify, and make distinctions between one category of knowledge and another. Everything I read, I want to keep. I have extensive book shelves in three different rooms on two floors, and each section contains a specific category of books, just like a library. The idea of throwing away a book feels sacrilegious.
A phrase I resonate to with Mercury-Gemini in the 2nd is: “having a wealth of information.” Recall that the 2nd house is not values per se, but specifically those thingsthat we value and wish to possess. For me, the things that I cherish most are Mercury-related, such as books. I have more books than I could ever read; yet, I keep them because I never know what I might want to learn next.
Since the 2nd house is associated with the bodily and earthly realm, I’ve always had a strong interest in new physics and biological research, especially pertaining to the evolution of living systems, starting with the big bang all the way up the chain of being. This was the topic of my doctoral dissertation, although ultimately it was about the evolution of consciousness. I like data that is grounded in things that have real substance. I became fascinated with the idea that living systems are learning systems. That is, even the smallest microorganisms are in some way intelligent and proactive in their hunger for information.
The idea of writing for a living always appealed to me; that is, making money (2nd house) from learning and communication. I remember the first time I heard the phrase “informational products”. I immediately recognized it was something I wanted to do. Tangible products, of course, are 2nd house things, whereas Mercury is information.
In retrospect I can see that being an “infopreneur” is something my life has been leading toward. An infopreneur is someone who is his own creator, marketer, and distributor of information via e-zines, e-books, audio files, video files, websites, online courses, and so forth. That’s me, although making money was never the primary motivation. Learning is. Yet, being able to produce something tangible (2nd house) that enables others to learn (Mercury) does have a win-win practical ring to it, so there it is! 🙂
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AstroPsychology as Grounded Theory

Drawing Down the Heavens
AstroPsychology as Grounded Theory

By Glenn Perry

 In this article, I examine the origins of astrology as an outcome of inductive and deductive reasoning. Whereas inductive logic arrives at conclusions on the basis of concrete data, deductive logic predicts concrete outcomes on the basis of established principles. The danger of overreliance on deduction in astrology is that it can lead our field into a solipsistic, self-referential dead end―a closed system that fails to evolve. AstroPsychology may be a corrective to this trend in that it is a hybrid model grounded in data that derives from ongoing research across disciplines. 


AstroPsychology as grounded theory

Astrology from its inception has been based on data that correlates human experience to celestial movements. For example, if individuals born within thirty days following the vernal equinox were consistently observed to be more courageous than average, early astrologers logically concluded that Sun in Aries correlates to courage as a personality attribute. This is inductive reasoning.

However, once the general meanings of astrological variables were established―meanings of signs, planets, houses and so forth―practitioners were able to deduce probable outcomes from planetary positions. Deductive reasoning is the basis for the predictive dimension of astrology, reasoning from the general to the specific. If a particular configuration occurs, we can deduce its meaning (outcome) from time-honored principles of interpretation.

In doing so, however, there is a tendency to perpetuate a certain type and level of understanding―that is, to see what we have grown accustomed to seeing, to ask the same old questions and arrive at the same old answers. For a theory to evolve, there must be a willingness to depart from deductive reasoning that presumes a particular outcome on the basis of established principles. Even when correct, a deductive approach to knowledge tends to perpetuate the very theory that generates its predictions.

Conversely, an inductive approach to knowledge is rooted in whatever further data can be gleaned from a topic. Rather than predict, the goal is simply to observe, but with new eyes and fresh questions that probe ever deeper into the phenomenon under study. An evolving theory should be open to new data from which a more comprehensive understanding can emerge. Inductive reasoning is the essence of grounded theory as a research methodology. 

AstroPsychology as grounded theory implies a model derived from inductive logic, which is reasoning from the specific to the general. Again, you begin with some data, and then determine what general conclusion(s) can logically be derived from that data. Having Jupiter in Capricorn, I prefer my theoretical formulations about astrology to be as grounded as possible in tangible evidence. While my library has burgeoned to dangerous proportions―threatening to spill out into every room of the house―I must admit my thinking has been more influenced by client work than books. Of course, both are indispensable, but one advantage of working with clients in the slow, painstaking way that psychotherapy allows is that you get to see astrology up close in real time, like a botanist observing the unhurried, almost imperceptible movement of a flower unfolding its petals. After four decades of watching clients struggle, grow, and evolve, my understanding of astrology has changed.

Although I was a professional astrologer before becoming a psychotherapist, it always seemed to me that the two fields had much to offer one another. Both focus on human behavior; yet, astrology provides a language for disclosing connections between inner and outer realms of experience that goes far beyond anything psychology has to offer. At the same time, psychology offers new concepts and a methodological rigor that has broadened, deepened, and sharpened my understanding of astrological symbols. In short, I have tried to look at both fields with new eyes and fresh questions. The ongoing work of synthesis warrants a name, “AstroPsychology”. But what exactly does this mean?

A definition of AstroPsychology should start with a brief history of the term. Although astrology as generally practiced can be traced back to the first century B.C.E., its latest mutation―psychological astrology―occurred at the turn of the 20th century in response to three events. First, positivist science was at its peak and there was little tolerance for archaic systems like astrology that did not fit into the reigning mechanistic paradigm. Traditional, event-oriented astrology had come under increasing legal scrutiny, and astrologers actually risked arrest for making predictions. Focus on personality description was more acceptable, however, and so enabled astrologers to continue practicing with relative impunity.

Second, the theosophical movement that began during the latter half of the 19th century was in full swing and many of its leaders were astrologically literate, including Alice Bailey and Alan Leo. Because Theosophy addressed the spiritual, subjective realm of being—that is, psyche—Buddhist and Hindu ideas concerning karma, reincarnation, and growth of soul were incorporated into astrology.

And third, the new discipline of psychoanalysis was becoming increasingly popular during the opening decades of the 20th century. Given that astrology and psychoanalysis both sought to explain human behavior, astrologers were naturally drawn to the deeper, interior realm of psyche that Freud and his followers were beginning to articulate.

Together, these three factors launched a new kind of astrology that came to be known as psychological astrology. Its most noteworthy exponents were Alan Leo, Charles E. O. Carter, and Marc Edmond Jones. At the beginning of the movement, psychological astrology was little more than superficial descriptions of behavior, albeit in greater detail than typically occurred with traditional astrology. Toward the middle of the century, however, Dane Rudhyar began introducing Jungian and humanistic ideas into the field with an increasing emphasis upon the human capacity for growth and change.

By the 1970’s, the incomparable Richard Idemon began using the term “AstroPsychology” to differentiate his brand of Jungian oriented astrology from other practitioners. In Europe, the Swiss astrologer, Bruno Huber, also adopted the term, but with different meaning. Our work at the Academy of AstroPsychology can be seen as an evolution of Richard’s, though it has little in common with the Huber school.1

A New Personality Theory
Most of psychological astrology in the 20th century could be characterized as a mish-mash of humanistic and Jungian ideas without any formal structure. As such, it never developed into a systematic, full blown personality theory. Different authors made noteworthy contributions; yet, no single contribution reached the level of a personality theory in the tradition of a formal, psychological model. According to Hall and Lindzey’s classic tome, Theories of Personality, any adequate theory of personality should accomplish the following minimal objectives:2

  1. It must be comprehensive, or integrative, in that it deals with the total, functioning person.
  2. It must account for what motivates the human being.
  3. It must contain a set of empirical definitions concerning the various parts of the personality, thus permitting observation.
  4. It must consist of a network of assumptions about behavior that are systematically related in accordance with certain rules.
  5. It must be useful in that it is capable of generating predictions about behavior that are testable and verifiable, thus expanding knowledge.

Again, astrologers have made little if any attempt to meet the foregoing objectives in an explicit, systematic way. Yet anyone familiar with astrology knows that it implicitly meets all these requirements. Astrology is comprehensive in that it is concerned with all the parts and processes that make up the human psyche. The signs of the zodiac symbolize the basic drives that motivate human conduct, and their planetary rulers constitute parts of psychic structure that can be empirically defined, thus permitting observation. Rules of chart interpretation—chart synthesis—represent a network of assumptions about behavior that are systematically related. Finally, astrology is useful in that it is capable of generating predictions that are verifiable, thus promoting research and expanding knowledge.

For these reasons, a primary objective at the Academy of AstroPsychology has been to develop astrology into a comprehensive model of the psyche—an astrological theory of personality, if you will—that explicitly meets all of Hall and Lindzey’s criteria.As a meta-model, AstroPsychology cannot be defined in terms of any particular theory, but rather synthesizes a variety of ideas from different perspectives, including psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, Jungian/archetypal, object relations, humanistic, transpersonal, and general systems theory. It also utilizes information derived from developmental psychology and various spiritual traditions that emphasize the evolution of soul within an overarching, reincarnational framework. Rules for chart synthesis are explicitly formulated that allow for precision of meaning at a psychodynamic level while also allowing that astrological archetypes can manifest outwardly in a variety of ways. Particular stress is placed on the birthchart as symbolizing a developmental process that is expressed and experienced differently over time.

While ancient astrology roughly described how human behavior correlated to planetary positions, these descriptions were limited to surface features of the personality. In contrast, AstroPsychology plumbs the depths of soul and does so in terms that did not even exist prior to the 20th century. Basic needs, psychological functions, affect states, intrapsychic conflict, internal dialogues, unconscious complexes, defense mechanisms, pathogenic beliefs, personality disorders, developmental stages, and the gradual but inexorable movement toward self-actualization are all explained with the framework of AstroPsychology. Students do not need any background in psychology to understand these concepts, for they are seamlessly interwoven with astrology. In sum, this is what distinguishes AstroPsychology from psychological astrology in general: its broad, inclusive structure, emphasis on development, systematic precision, depth of focus, and spiritual import. 

Perhaps the single most defining attribute of AstroPsychology is its focus on integrating the birth chart and, thus, supporting the human potential for growth and change. Integration can be defined as the process of developing, differentiating, and coordinating personality components into a functional unity. Emphasis on integration is grounded in research that suggests the very purpose of human life—if not all life—is to evolve into more complex states until individuals recognize their at-one-ment with source. As the philosopher Manly Hall put it, “Man can think of his own life either as the fulfillment of himself, or as the gradual completion of a greater existence of which he is a part and with which he is indissolvably associated.”4

The Significance of Events
While AstroPsychology by definition is psychological, it also honors the importance of external events. Every variable in the chart has both a subjective and objective meaning, which implies that inner and outer reflect one another in an acausal, synchronistic way. As such, neither determines the other in a linear sense; rather, the relationship is circular. Psyche—that complex of attributes experienced as thought, feeling, and will—impacts the environment which, in turn, reacts upon the person in a continuous interactive cycle. Psyche is both a cause of, and response to, environmental conditions; we are defined and refined by our relations with the outside world.

If psyche encompasses its relations with the environment, then consciousness is non-local and what we call “fate” may actually be soul concretized through experience over time. This is what the birth chart seems to symbolize—an exteriorization of the soul’s pattern in terms of physiology, personality, and environment. Every meaningful experience is a synchronistic reflection of a pre-potent psychic structure that evolves by processing the event-consequences of its own internal states. This alone makes AstroPsychology unique as a personality theory.

The non-local, evolutionary nature of consciousness further implies that birthcharts do not depict a static character and unalterable fate. Rather, the horoscope symbolizes an unfolding process (soul) that learns, develops, and expresses itself at higher, more integrated levels over time.

Given that AstroPsychology is non-deterministic, its approach to forecasting warrants further comment. Over the last several decades, psychological astrology has been characterized as lacking sufficient focus on concrete, external events. Its seeming indifference to prediction rendered it vulnerable to criticism by practitioners who believed astrology’s primary function is (or should be) foreknowledge of the future. Also, if psychological astrologers do not have to predict empirical events, they are insulated from any kind of disproof mechanism. Statements about the inner world cannot be evaluated for accuracy with the same rigor as statements about the outer world. Accordingly, 20th century psychological astrology drifted into a fuzzy, vague, shoot-from-the-hip approach that made it suspect in the eyes of serious scholars.5 

AstroPsychology strives to remedy this problem. Again, while its primary focus is the psyche, there is also a keen interest in external events—not merely to predict them for their own sake, but to discern their significance as evolutionary drivers. An evolutionary driver is an event that serves as a catalyst and vehicle for a developmental process. As a catalyst, it triggers a shift in the native’s thinking and behavior that empowers him or her to meet a situation more effectively. And as a vehicle, it provides exactly the right type of situation—whether in marriage, career, health, or otherwise—to serve a corrective or educative purpose.

Understanding the significance of outer events enables astrologers to discuss them with clients in ways that support a natural, evolutionary process, for the event in question will always reflect a key configuration in the birthchart, whether natally or by transit/progression. When clients gain insight into what a situation means and requires from a growth oriented perspective, they are better able to consciously evolve; that is, intentionally collaborate with the cosmos toward realization of their full potential.

Another reason that events are important is that they provide a barometer for measuring the native’s level of functionality in a particular area of life. In other words, they serve a diagnostic function. If, for example, a woman with Neptune conjunct Mars in Scorpio in the 7th house consistently marries alcoholic, abusive men who exploit her financially, this is an important indication that she has significant work to do in the area of partnerships. On the other hand, if she enjoys a stable marriage with a man with whom she sets up a joint therapy practice that specializes in helping undifferentiated, low functioning couples in crisis, then this is an indicator that she is expressing that same configuration at a higher, more integrated level. Both outcomes equally express the same configuration. 

The question arises as to whether either outcome could be predicted. From the perspective of AstroPsychology, predicting specific outcomes is a guessing game of dubious merit even when the guess turns out to be correct. First, as the above example illustrates, a given configuration can be expressed at different levels of integration; thus, predicting outcomes is problematic—especially in the absence of historical knowledge about the person for whom one is predicting. Second, and more importantly, foreknowledge of an event is unhelpful if there is no understanding of the event’s significance as a vehicle for a specific kind of developmental process. What can be predicted, however, is the process that underlies the particulars of the event.

By “process” I mean the underlying needs and psychological functions of the configuration that serve as generative matrix for the event. Consider, for example, a client who has Sun conjunct Venus in Pisces in the 10th square Mars in Sagittarius in the 7th (see Figure 1). As a nurse, she is constantly encountering unruly, self-righteous others who insist that she immediately comply with their demands. In other words, her 7th house relationships are characterized by an outspoken and aggressive Mars in Sagittarius, which she is projecting. As a result, she identifies with her Venus-Sun in Pisces at the expense of her Mars. She is kind, loving, and compassionate, but frequently feels like a victim of other’s selfish aggression. As an event-pattern, her experience can be understood in terms of the level of integration she’s expressing with regard to the square.

Sun-Venus square Mars

Figure 1: Sun conjunct Venus square Mars

As a process, each planet in the configuration signifies a basic need and behavioral action—to express oneself and fulfill self-esteem needs (Sun), to engage others and satisfy needs for social relations (Venus), and to act in one’s own self-interest for the sake of freedom and survival (Mars). These planetary processes are colored by the signs they tenant, and unfold in the context of the houses they occupy. The square signifies an intrapsychic conflict that requires containment in awareness of the respective processes so they can be effectively coordinated. To the extent this conflict remains unconscious and unresolved, defenses like repression and projection will assure that troubling events occur without her having any awareness of her own role in bringing them about.

From an astrological perspective, however, we can see not only the quality of events that are likely to occur, but their meaning and purpose as well. We might infer that the event-pattern of aggressive others impinging upon our kindly nurse is occurring for the sake of arousing her own Mar’s function to awareness so that it can be more fully integrated with her Venus-Sun. Fire has to be fought with fire, but tempered with fairness (Venus) and honor (Sun) that expresses compassion (Pisces) toward her offenders while also asserting clear limits (Mars). To the degree that she is able to rise to the challenge that her circumstances dictate, both her relationships (7th) and career (10th) will improve.

A single event might encapsulate the pattern. That is, it can reflect the underlying process and provide a vehicle for its further integration. Imagine that when the configuration is activated by a transit our sensitive client has to contend with intrusive demands by a high-minded nurse with whom she is partnering in a ward for accident victims. Such an outcome would reflect the astrological variables involved in her natal square. But any number of other events can serve the process just as well. Accordingly, predicting concrete events is secondary to knowing the abstract function they serve. Prediction is important, but not as an early warning system to advise clients in taking evasive or exploitive action; rather, prediction can be utilized as a means of supporting the client in meeting life’s opportunities and challenges with the proper attitude. By understanding the underlying purpose of a given period, clients are better able to actualize the potential for growth inherent in the time.

Inescapable Indeterminacy
De-emphasis on predicting concrete events is also in keeping with the multidimensionality, intra-dimensional variability, and polyvalence of astrological archetypes. An astrological variable is multidimensional in the sense that it can symbolize multiple dimensions of meaning both within and without. For example, Mars can signify a basic need (survival), psychological function (assertion), state of mind (excitement), and behavioral trait (bold), while also representing an external character (rival), place (racetrack), thing (weapon), or event (competition). Within any of these dimensions there is intra-dimensional variability. As an event, for instance, Mars could also be an argument, a new beginning, or simply an adventure. Finally, astrological archetypes are polyvalent in that they combine with other variables—signs, houses, and aspects—which shape and modify their expression in countless ways.

With regard to polyvalence, a configuration such as a planetary aspect involves multiple signs, planets, and houses. As such, it constitutes a higher level system that exerts regulative control over its component parts. The aspect constrains, shapes, and modifies the functioning of the parts so that they comply with the objectives of the higher level system. Although every component has multiple possible expressions, each is swept up in the structure of the psychic form it helps to comprise; thus, from the myriad potential expressions of each part, each particular expression is selected and coordinated to form a single, coherent, relatively integrated holistic pattern, much like a family exerts regulative control upon its members to comply with the values and objectives of the family as a whole. Without such downward causation, the internal world of the psyche would be a teeming, buzzing chaos.

Astrology’s enormous flexibility as a language means there is an inescapable ambiguity and indeterminacy to birthcharts. One cannot reliably determine concrete particulars from a system that is inherently indeterminate. This underscores why predicting process—the purpose and meaning of a time period—not only is of greater value than guessing outcomes, it is also more in accord with what is actually possible. Purpose and meaning occur at a higher level of abstraction than concrete particulars; or, stated in the reverse, different manifestations of a configuration can have the same or similar meaning.

For example, imagine two individuals with identical charts—one a Catholic priest and the other a white supremacist—both of whom have transiting Jupiter conjuncting Pluto Scorpio in the 9th opposing Mars Taurus in the 3rd (see Figure 2). Separate events occur that are personally relevant to each. In the first, the Catholic priest is accused of sodomizing a young boy in his congregation but is protected from prosecution by the archbishop of his province. In the second, a prejudiced Alabama court acquits the white supremacist who is being tried for blowing up a black church and maiming a little girl. Concretely, the events seem different; yet, at a higher level of abstraction, each incident constitutes an injustice in which a powerful but corrupt moral authority—the archbishop and Alabama court—exonerates a perpetrator who has violated a victim in a church.


Jupiter Transit

Figure 2: Transiting Jupiter conjunct Pluto in the 9th

Although the particular outcome in each case is not predictable, astrology allows us to surmise the meaning of the period independent of the events that occur. The outcome was fortunate for the perpetrators, which correlates to the Jupiter transit, but fortunate in the context of a heinous act symbolized by Pluto Scorpio in the 9th opposing Mars Taurus in the 3rd. One might infer from the variables involved that the purpose of such a transit is for the perpetrators to reflect upon the moral implications of their violent crimes. Although each escapes punishment, we should not assume that such injustice has no value as a learning experience. The extent to which our pedophile priest and racial bigot mend their ways will be tested by the next major transit to the same configuration. If it is Saturn, they might not be so lucky. The upshot is that the outcome of a transit might not be knowable in advance, but its meaning and purpose can be.

Summary & Conclusion
Psychological astrology began in the 20th century in concert with cultural developments that set the stage for the emergence of a new type of astrology. While early formulations tended to be vague, imprecise, and overly focused on behavioral traits, AstroPsychology presents a highly structured, coherent system that not only reveals the intrapsychic world with unprecedented depth, clarity and precision, but is equally mindful of the circular feedback relations that occur between inner and outer reality.

AstroPsychology recognizes the importance of events as vehicles and catalysts for a developmental process; yet, also accepts the radical indeterminacy of outcomes and thus the futility of predicting events if incognizant of their significance as evolutionary drivers. By stressing the abstract meaning of events over their concrete form, individuals are empowered to consciously cooperate with an evolutionary imperative at the heart of the cosmos.

A prime objective at the Academy of AstroPsychology has been to develop astrology into a theory of personality that is both rigorous and flexible. The purpose of this effort is not merely to gain acceptance for astrology within the field of psychology, but for the inherent value of building a cutting edge, cogent model that subsumes and integrates relevant concepts from different traditions and thereby advances our understanding of what it means to be human.

* * * * *


1 This article is abstracted from Perry, G. An Introduction to AstroPsychology. Haddam Neck, CT: AAP Press, 2012.

Hall, C., & Lindzey, G. (1978). Theories of person­ality. New York: John Wiley & Sons

The Academy of AstroPsychology offers online classes in astrology as a personality theory, developmental model, and diagnostic/prognostic tool.

4 Hall, M.P. (1954). The essential nature of consciousness. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society

 5 Hand, R. Toward a Postmodern Astrology. Published at, cited September 1, 2014.


Multiple Layers of Meaning

Multiple Layers of Meaning 

By Glenn Perry


Multiple layers of meaningStudent: Recently I heard an astrologer give a reading in which he made no mention of planets in signs or houses. He only interpreted aspects. The client was going through her Saturn return and the astrologer interpreted Saturn conjunct natal Saturn, but that’s all. Yet, it seemed to be helpful! I’ve also heard astrologers interpret planets in signs but they did not seem to fit the person. Maybe sign positions are superfluous? In striving to understand chart synthesis, how important are signs and houses in comparison to just aspects? 

Glenn: There’s no question that aspects are extremely important. In chart synthesis, they’re the skeletal structure upon which the sign positions can be added, like flesh on bone. And the houses provide the background setting in which the planetary aspect plays out. Unless we’re talking about a conjunction, there are generally 7 variables in an aspect that have to be combined into an intelligible statement—two planets, two signs, two houses, and the aspect itself. The complexity of the challenge is daunting and so the tendency is to focus on two variables at a time, the planet in a sign, or a house, or in aspect to another planet. However, fragmenting the person in this way misses how all these variables combine to make the person who he or she actually is.
It is relatively easy to say something intelligible about a planet’s sign or house position or a single aspect to another planet. But unless the astrologer takes pains to explain that the interpretation only pertains to a part of the person—that is, it does not describe the person as a whole—then the client is unlikely to recognize the validity of the description offered.
All of this underscores the importance of talking to the client before interpreting the chart. Unless the astrologer takes time to really know his client, it’s almost impossible to make an interpretation that synthesizes the seven variables in a way that is actually relevant to how the client is expressing that configuration. Again, the challenge is incorporating the sign and house positions into the interpretation of the aspect. This makes the interpretation more nuanced, specific, and complex in its ability to more closely approximate the person’s actual experience.
I call this “layering.” Just as the earth has different layers from its core to its atmosphere, so astrologically a planet has a core meaning for itself, over which is layered the meaning of its sign position, its house position, and additional layers contingent upon its aspects. The more an interpretation combines one meaning layered over another in a way that relates to the client’s actual life concerns, then the more accurate, precise, and relevant the interpretation becomes.
Such an interpretation has the quality of a subplot within the larger narrative of the chart as a whole. It is too complex to be reduced to a series of statements about personality traits. Conversely, if a simple interpretation is made of a planet in a sign, or a house, and these factors are not synthesized with the aspect of which they are a part, then it remains generic and not nearly so relevant to the actual experience of that particular person. 
To give a simple example, I have two clients with Venus forming an opening square to Mars. Generically, this suggest some difficulty in being able to tolerate the tension of conflicting drives, one for attachment (Venus) and the other for autonomy (Mars). The first person, a woman, has Venus in Pisces in the 10th and Mars in Sagittarius in the 7th. Her tendency is to dissociate (Pisces defense) when in relationship because she worries the other person will become aggressive and violate her rights. With her Mars in Sagittarius, she anticipates she will be attacked on moral grounds (Sagittarius). Since Venus is in the 10th, her Pisces defense of dissociation (passivity, withdrawal) occurs most noticeably in her profession where she takes on more responsibility than she can actually handle. In other words, she cannot say ‘no’.
The second person has Venus in Libra in the 9th square Mars in Cancer in the 7th. His fear is that if he commits to marriage with his girlfriend he’ll lose his freedom, so he equivocates and placates and appeases, which is characteristic of Venus in Libra. Since his Mars is in Cancer, he anticipates she will be angry and hurt if he wishes to spend time with his friends. He worries that her dependency needs (Cancer) will overwhelm his capacity to adapt (Libra). And since his Venus is in the 9th, he rationalizes his reluctance to commit on legal grounds (9th house) that divorce laws are biased in favor of woman. 
More could be said about both cases, but hopefully this brief example illustrates the subtle differences between aspects on the basis of sign and house positions. The devil is in the details to be sure, but the larger story is in how the details fit together to make a life.
In courses AP 102 through 104, specific rules are taught that enable students to make complex, layered interpretations that are maximally relevant and accurate while also allowing for flexibility of meaning. For more on this topic, see my column on “Astromyopia”.

The Significance of Planetary Emotions

The Significance of
Planetary Emotions

By Glenn Perry

planetary emotionsA
t the heart of AstroPsychology is the simple assertion: needs motivate. But to account for motivation, a model of the psyche must deal with human feelings and emotions. Once a felt need begins to dominate awareness, that person is motivated to engage in behaviors that satisfy the need. People act out of anger, fear, curiosity, love, excitement, pride, shame, aesthetic pleasure, and so on. In this column, we will explore the significance of planetary emotions for an astrological theory of personality.

The relationship between planets and signs provides a key to understanding feelings. Planets are the actors of the personality; each planet signifies a category of  self-consistent actions that are designed to fulfill specific needs associated with the sign that planet rules. Yet, how do we know which planet and which action is appropriate to a given situation? How do we know when to act and with what degree of intensity? Our answer is zodiacal signs. Each zodiacal sign can be correlated with a set of interrelated psychological needs and associated feelings. When needs are triggered by events, they are communicated via feelings to the appropriate planetary function, telling it what to do, when to do it, and how much of it should be done. Feelings, in short, provide a means for prioritizing needs. To take a simple example, Gemini correlates to the need for learning. If a person experiences interest in a particular topic, their curiosity activates the Mercury function of inquiry. Learning is the Gemini need, curiosity the feeling, and inquiry the Mercury action.

Emotions versus Feelings
Before proceeding further, it will be useful to distinguish emotions from feelings. Emotions can be described as complex, physiological reactions to the meaning of an object or event. They comprise the core responses that constitute our subjective experience and may derive from basic organizing principles in the Universe—archetypes—that are immanent in nature at all levels. It’s been established, for instance, that animals and even plants have emotional responses to events that are not appreciably different from human emotions.1 Proceeding from Aries through Pisces, each sign can be correlated with a group of related emotions. Taking one emotion from each sign-group, some examples would be: anger, calmness, curiosity, caring, happiness, worry, attraction, fear, hope, determination, detachment, and compassion. 

Feelings are the more general and secondary term, for they entail an evaluative response to emotional (and sensory) experience. A fish may feel slimy, and its sliminess may be further evaluated as strange, good, or bad, all which can be called ‘feelings’. But none of these are emotions. Conversely, a person may see a barracuda swimming toward him, and feel fear. The emotion is fear, and the feeling of his fear prompts him to avoid the barracuda. While a directly felt emotion is virtually indistinguishable from a feeling, it precedes feeling in the way that heat precedes the sensation of being burned. It would be fair to say, therefore, that all felt emotions are feelings, but not all feelings are emotions. Also, an emotion may or may not be felt. If a person gripped by fear allows it into full, conscious awareness, we can say he feels afraid. But if he defends against his fear, he may not feel it at all. Yet, it is still there, influencing his behavior at an unconscious level. His emotion of fear exists whether he feels it or not. For purposes of simplicity, I will use the words ’emotion’ and ‘feeling’ interchangeably in the remainder of this article.

Emotions and Suffering
The exact nature of emotional responses is a complex phenomenon that has spawned a considerable amount of research over the last 100 years, including entire books dedicated to the subject.My own view is that emotions are archetypal voices of sign-planet motivational systems. As such, they function as barometers of need satisfaction. From the ancient Greeks to the middle of the 18th century, what we now call emotions was commonly referred to as passions. Passion derives from the Latin, pati, which in turn is related to the Greek, pathos, meaning suffering. Also related to passion are such terms as passivity and patient. Emotions are experienced passively in the sense that they are beyond the individual’s control, as when a patient “succumbs” to illness. The term emotion comes from the Latin, e + movere, which originally meant to migrate or transfer from one place to another. It was also used to refer to states of agitation or perturbation, whether physical or psychological. Emotion thus emphasizes the often stormy or turbulent nature of our reactions, and their tendency to arouse and activate behavior.

At the root of these concepts is the notion that an individual who is experiencing emotion is undergoing or suffering some change, as opposed to initiating change.3 In other words, emotions are passively rather than actively experienced. Colloquially, the experience of passivity during emotion is expressed in many ways. We “fall” in love, are “paralyzed” by fear, “plagued” with doubt, “haunted” by guilt,” “torn” by jealousy, “carried away” with joy, “consumed” by envy, “seized” with remorse, and so forth. In archetypal psychology, one speaks of “daimon possession,” meaning the usurpation of the total personality by a split-off part. This way of speaking implies that emotions are something that happens to us, not something we do. It is as though emotions were alien forces that “overcome” and “possess” an individual.

Astrological texts tend to associate the Moon with feelings. However, this is simplistic and misleading, as every sign-planet system corresponds to its own range of feelings. Even an air sign like Aquarius is characterized by a certain kind of emotion—detached, remote, distant, tolerant, dispassionate, cold, and aloof. Such feelings are associated with Uranian functions of objective overview and holistic perspective. This serves to illustrate that every planetary action has its own emotional undercurrent, including behavior that we might normally consider unemotional. As a psychological function, the Moon is merely our capacity to contain and reflect upon needs/feelings conveyed by each sign-planet system.

In his book, Affects as Process, Jones declares that emotions, or “affects” (the two terms being synonymous), are best understood as presymbolic representatives and governors of motivational systems.4 An emotion is presymbolic because it is a way of knowing that does not depend upon the symbol systems we call language, and it is the experiential representative of a motive because it conveys information about our state of being and what we need at any given moment. In short, an affect is an analog of a psycho-physiological state. Just as sense organs within the brain monitor the body’s states and needs through feelings such as hunger, thirst, and temperature, so emotions provide a continuous readout of how the psyche is functioning. If a person’s freedom (Aries) is threatened, he feels anger; if his desire for learning (Gemini) is stimulated, he feels curious; if his need for self-esteem (Leo) is met, he feels proud. “Emotions are the experiential monitor of complex motivational systems,” says Jones. “By cross-comparing the affective intensity of feelings from competing systems, the organism has a simple, effective way of prioritizing information and thus reaching a decision, which, in turn, initiates a course of action.”It is in this regard that emotions are governors of motivational systems.

Astrological Corollaries
Again, we can think of this astrologically by relating each sign-planet motivational system to a specific range of affects. Consider, for example, the Leo-Sun system. We know that a sign’s need can be inferred from behavior that is characteristic of that sign. All Leo traits can be understood in the context of the need for validation, self-esteem, and approval. If these needs are met, the individual attains the target state of Leo-Sun, which is pride and confidence. In pursuit of this state, however, he may momentarily experience a whole range of Leonian affects on a continuum from positive to negative: confident, happy, buoyant, playful, worthy, willful, stubborn, defensive, disdainful, unworthy, self-doubting, unconfident, humiliated, or ashamed. Such feelings inform him as to how far or close he is to the solar target state of pride/confidence.

Planets, or course, have relations with one another, which can give rise to mixed feelings that are prioritized in accord with whatever need/feeling is strongest and most immediate. An example might be a young man with Mars square Moon who experiences a simultaneous desire for freedom (Aries) and closeness (Cancer). As one motivational system is competing with the other, the intensity of competing affects allow for a quick means of prioritizing information and determining choice. If our young man recently spent a considerable amount of time alone pursuing independent interests, it is likely that his Cancer-Moon motivational system will emerge into awareness with greater affective intensity, thus motivating him to seek closeness. However, if he just enjoyed an intimate weekend with his girlfriend at home, his Aries-Mars motivational system is likely to become dominant and he will feel an urge to separate.

The connection between emotions and motives is illustrated by the etymologic history of the terms. Both words are derivatives of the Latin movere and its past participle motivere. In effect, emotions are subjective experiences that “move” us to action. Psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to needs as “impulse-voices.” If sufficiently attuned to these archetypal voices, one can “hear” what they want. Asked to account for his sudden separation from his girlfriend, the young man might say, “Something was telling me to leave; I had to get away.” Further reflection might reveal that he felt restless. Very often when there is too much or too prolonged closeness an individual will begin to feel irritated with his or her partner, often provoking a fight. In retrospect, one can see that the feeling of irritation and subsequent fight was operating in the service of a need to separate.

Again, affects are prime motivators of behavior. “Cross-sectionally, affects provide the principle means of identifying moment-to-moment shifts in motivational dominance” writes Lichtenberg.In other words, emotions provide the affective signal indicating what motivational system is operative. If planets could talk, each would have a characteristic imperative; each would have has its own distinct internal voice.

Aries-Mars:  “Just do it! Go for it! It’s your right.”

Taurus-Venus:  “If it feels good, enjoy it. Pleasure yourself. Mellow out.”

Gemini-Mercury: “That’s interesting; define and classify it. Put on your thinking cap.”

Cancer-Moon:  “Listen, turn inward; what are you feeling now?”

Leo-Sun:  “Let it shine, baby. Express yourself!”

Virgo-Mercury:  “Be careful, there’s a problem here. Figure it out.”

Libra-Venus:  “Turn on the charm and engage. Consider, compromise, and cooperate.”

Scorpio-Pluto:  “Face your fear and take it to the limit. It’s do or die. Get down and dirty.”

Sagittarius-Jupiter:  “Keep the faith, baby. God is good. Just do the right thing.”

Capricorn-Saturn:  “Bear down and focus. Concentrate. Control yourself.”

Aquarius-Uranus:  “Expect the unexpected. Stay open and detached.”

Pisces-Neptune:  “Let go and let God. Surrender. Trust the Universe.”

The above examples illustrate how we experience planets as a form of self-talk. These are our inner voices, the archetypal imperatives that tell us what to do through specific emotional signals that are converted into symbolic language. For example, we might feel angry (Mars) and then say to ourselves, “I’ve got to fight; he can’t do that to me!” If we feel attracted (Venus), we might think: “Be nice; let them know you are interested.” Each planetary state has its own agenda and behavioral imperative.

As analogs of psycho-physiological states, affects are experienced through a range of intensity. This intensity gradient can be described by pairs of words that represent opposite extremes of emotion along a continuum. In our astrological model, there is a different affective range for each planet. Mars is joy-rage; the Sun is pride-shame; Neptune is bliss-grief, and so on.Experienced changes in intensity are the analogic representation of complex sensing systems that allow us to make quantitative distinctions, such as how angry is the person (Mars), how determined (Saturn), or how proud (Sun). Intensity variations in affects provide the means for prioritizing needs: the loudest, most intense affect is the one that gains our attention and thus activates the behavioral sequences of that sign-planet system.

Conflict & Integration Involving Aspects
Planetary emotions also differ qualitatively along a continuum of affective states. This qualitative range illustrates various degrees of integration of sign-planet motivational systems. A well-integrated, fully functional planet will more often be experienced in terms of positive affects, whereas a repressed, weak planetary function will more often be experienced in terms of negative affects. If, for example, an individual has difficulty with the Capricorn-Saturn motive, he is more likely to experience the negative end of Saturn’s emotional continuum—despair, pessimism, and inferiority. However, if he overcomes this tendency and works to strengthen his Saturn function, he is more likely to experience its positive states—a feeling of control, success, and superior status.

As indicated by the Mars-Moon example, a person may experience conflicting emotions and voices as evidenced by hard aspects between planets. In such instances, both planets are activated simultaneously, each with its own feelings, motivational imperative, and impulse to action; yet, planetary impulses are operating at cross-purposes. This is what is meant by ‘intrapsychic conflict’. A whole range of intrapsychic and thus emotional conflicts can be symbolized in the birthchart. Hard aspects tend to signify blockages and intensifications of motivational energy, resulting in the under- or overfunctioning of planetary functions.

If a person has Sun square Saturn, for example, the solar function can be temporarily blocked by the Saturnian injunction to favor work over play. When emotions signal it’s time to enjoy oneself and socialize with friends, they are ignored with the result that Leonian needs build up within the psyche. When finally released, the person may overdo attempts to gain approval and validation, as if having to compensate for inner feelings of low self-esteem. It can operate the other way, too. Favoring play over work, emotions that signal its time get serious and productive are avoided (procrastination). Unmet Capricorn needs build up in the psyche and when finally released the person may overwork to compensate for feelings of failure and inadequacy. Sometimes, an outer condition arises that synchronistically reflects the inner conflict. With Sun-Saturn, the person’s rejection of his Saturnian impulses may manifest externally as a domineering boss with unrealistic demands. Of course, integrated versions of Sun square Saturn are also possible.

In a future column, we will explore how the relationship of emotion to motivation can be described in terms of calibration and psychodynamics, and how these, in turn, are depicted in the astrological chart. For a full explication of this model, please see An Introduction to AstroPsychology and Depth Analysis of the Natal Chart. Meanwhile, stay tuned!

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1 Watson, L. (1973).  Supernature.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

2 See, for example, Averill, J.R. (1980). The emotions. In E. Staub (Ed.) Personality: Basic aspects and current research (pp. 133-199). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Also, Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam.

3 Averill, Ibid

4 Jones, J. (1995). Affects as process. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.

5  Ibid., p. 45

6 Lichtenberg, J. (1989) Psychoanalysis and motivation. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, p. 260

7  For graphs and tables of planetary emotional states, see Chapter 4 of Depth Analysis of the Natal Chart.

Planets Symbolize Psychological Functions

Planets Symbolize Functions

By Glenn Perry


Planets symbolize functions Early humans experienced planetary archetypes as messages from gods originating outside of their own minds. Today we recognize archetypes as the core feelings, needs, and values that constitute our inner life. A core tenet of AstroPsychology is that planets symbolize psychological functions that are oriented toward satisfying the needs of the signs they rule. Signs are motives; planets are their active agents.

Another way of saying this is that a planet symbolizes a single psychological faculty, which can be defined as an inherent power to perform multiple functions. Planetary functions are the normal, proper, or characteristic actions of that planet; thus, for example, Mars symbolizes the functions of asserting, starting, fighting, competing, and surviving.
Again, planetary functions are motivated by the need(s) of the sign that planet rules. This implies that motivation and function are as inseparable as a rocket and its fuel tank. In fact, each sign-planet pairing can be regarded as a system. When we talk about the body, we refer to specific systems such as the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, and the endocrine system. Likewise, there are psychological systems as well. Aries-Mars rules the competitive/assertion system, Taurus-Venus the security/stability system, and Capricorn-Saturn the control/mastery system.
A sign-planet is a motivational system because it entails an interaction between two components of the psyche: sign and planet. As needs, signs motivate their ruling planets to perform specific functions, and these functions involve appropriate actions that serve the underlying motive.
Abraham Maslow (1968) proposed that human beings are born with an essential nature that is analogous with physical structure. Just so in astrology, psychological functions are analogous to their biological corollaries. The functions of digestion and elimination, for example, are paralleled by corresponding psychological processes ruled by Virgo-Mercury and Scorpio-Pluto.
Whereas the Virgo-Mercury system governs the intestines, gastrointestinal system, and overall food metabolism, it also governs psychological process of analyzing and utilizing information in the service of competence. Just as we digest food, so we digest information, breaking it down into useful parts and assimilating it into our cognitive structure. In other words, Virgo is about the metabolizing of information—a clear corollary to the process of digestion on a biological level.
Likewise, biological and psychological processes of elimination are ruled by Scorpio-Pluto. On a biological level, Scorpio-Pluto governs the sexual/generative organs, which include the bladder, prostate gland, testicles, colon, and rectum. Note that these organ systems are involved in processes of ejection and elimination; ovulation and menstruation in the female and ejaculation in the male. We purge and eliminate on a psychological level, too, as when we experience catharsis and abreaction, purging toxic emotions or eliminating destructive mental habits. In addition, Scorpio-Pluto rules sexuality and tends to be penetrating, erotic, and regenerative by its very nature. 
These two examples—Virgo-Mercury and Scorpio-Pluto—illustrate how biological and corollary psychological functions are ruled by the same sign-planet system. In effect, a sign-planet system is analogous to a biological organ in that it symbolizes a type of action that is in the service of a psychological need, or motive. Just as the need of a sign can be inferred from behaviors that characterize that sign, so a planet’s functions can be inferred from actions that characterize its nature.
This is simply a matter of inductive reasoning. By observing characteristic actions of a planet, one can discern where the actions are leading to—in short, the purpose of the behavior. An action is any behavior that is goal-directed, or done for a reason. If one observes that Neptune is implicated in spiritual strivings, compassion for suffering, redemptive love, charity, psi abilities, fantasy, and dreams, then the faculty of Neptune would have to account for all actions classified as Neptunian.
If we call Neptune the Transcendent Faculty, this may suffice, for spiritual strivings are in the service of transcending the separate self-sense and uniting with a higher consciousness. Concern for the less fortunate, charity, and redemptive love require one to transcend self-interest and act to relieve the suffering of others. Psi abilities involve cognitive capacities that transcend rational intellect and sensory experience, while fantasy and dreams involve the perception of ideals and possibilities that transcend everyday, material reality. While no single word does justice to the diverse forms this archetypal process takes, Transcendent Faculty is as good a term as any. It may be that the best name for a planetary faculty is simply the planet itself—in this case, the faculty of Neptune.
Any characteristic action of a planet can be converted from a verb into a noun, which gives us a name for that function. Recall that planetary functions are the normal, proper, or characteristic actions of that planet. For example, Neptune symbolizes the verbs to imagine, to empathize, and to intuit. By converting these verbs into nouns we get three functions of Neptune: imagination, empathy, and intuition. Each term captures one facet of a complex, psychological faculty. Of course, there are other functions of Neptune beyond these three.
Again, functions are always in the service of needs. For every need represented by a sign, there is a planetary function devoted to the fulfillment of that need. Signs and planets form verb-noun pairs, as it were, the planet being the active agent (verb) of the sign-need (noun) over which it rules.
Saturn, for instance, is the planet that rules Capricorn. The need of Capricorn can be described as the drive for perfection in material form—or, put simply, the need for order, structure and control. Saturn, as the verb form and active agent of Capricorn, fulfills its needs by ordering, structuring, and controlling within the behavioral environment. Hence, Saturn represents the functions of order, structure, and control. In this regard, every planet symbolizes a particular kind of activity. Planets are actors and each one acts in a different way.
In an actual chart, Saturn would be in a parti­cular sign. Let us say, for instance, that Saturn is in Gemini. Thus, we have the syntax of an astrological sentence: the need of Capricorn (noun) is fulfilled by Saturn (verb) in a Gemini manner (adverb). In short, the need for order is fulfilled by achieving intellectually. Saturn in Gemini represents the drive for perfection through the ordering of mental constructs.
If Saturn is highlighted in the natal chart by, for example, being conjunct the Ascendant, we might have an individual with an obsessive need to structure language into a logical system. Perhaps he might write a book on linguistics or devise a theory of syntax. The Gemini sign placement merely suggests how Saturn fulfills its Capricorn-need and what some possible outcomes might be.
The point here is that needs symbolized by signs provide the motivation that triggers functions represented by planets. How and whether those functions satisfy their motivating needs is indicated by a host of additional factors including the planet’s sign and house position and its aspects to other planets. The degree to which a planet can satisfy its sign-need is a measure of that planet’s functionality (or dysfunctionality).
This is a topic that will be explained more fully in subsequent columns. In our next installment, we will explore how sign-needs are experienced as emotions that trigger behaviors calculated to achieve specific ends.
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Maslow, A. (1968). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.
Perry, G. (2012). An Introduction to AstroPsychology. Haddam Neck, CT: AAP Press.

Astrological Prejudice

Astrological Prejudice

By Glenn Perry


Astrological PrejudiceRecently there was a discussion on Facebook that illustrated what I call astrological prejudice. A professional astrologer got the ball rolling by posting the following: 

“Simple question about Venus in Leo: How do you counsel these people? How do you get them to pay attention to anyone else? (Okay, this is a personal issue. My brother has Venus in Leo. Any random thoughts are appreciated).”

I was struck by this question and the conversation that followed because it seemed to endorse a subtle form of discrimination. Many of us know people who report how an astrologer looked at their chart and made some negative comment accompanied by a sneer or look of consternation, as if that person were cursed, afflicted, or simply bad. Apart from the underlying arrogance in assuming that one can know a person merely from his or her birthchart, I think such responses betray a fundamental misunderstanding of how astrology works. 

In the question above, for instance, there is reference to ‘these people’ followed by a negative stereotype: “How do you get them to pay attention to anyone else?” (Implying they are all self-centered). Most of us will recognize that there is no “these people” with regard to a planetary sign position. The very phrase implies there is some consistency that applies to everyone who has Venus in Leo. As with any other planetary sign position, it is an ingredient within a complex mix in which everything affects everything else (in addition to extra-astrological factors such as age, maturity, culture, and so on, all of which make their own contribution). So, to reduce a person to a planetary configuration and expect to explain some negative aspect of his behavior on that basis alone is a prejudice in the same way that making sweeping statements about blacks, or Hispanics, or any other minority is a prejudice. The comment this astrologer posted on Facebook could easily be construed as:

“I dislike people with Venus in Leo. They’re so narcissistic! My brother had Venus in Leo and all he could talk about was himself.”

To be fair, a certain amount of generalization is unavoidable if we are going to create intelligible meanings about planetary sign positions. Yet, it is important to differentiate statements about a planetary configuration from statements about a person. With astrology we can describe components of the personality but we cannot reduce the person to the component any more than you can reduce a casserole to a particular ingredient. It follows that we should not make statements about whole people on the basis of particular parts; rather, we should make statements about parts, and then seek to discern how the parts fit together to make the person.

It takes some discipline to restrict one’s statements to parts, but it is a good habit to cultivate. For example, I can say, “Venus in Leo seeks intimacy by being showy and playful” without assuming that someone with Venus in Leo will necessarily behave this way. For there are other possibilities, too, as well as additional chart factors that will complicate the picture. If, for example, Venus in Leo is in the 12th square Saturn and opposing Neptune, these factors are likely to mitigate the native’s tendency to be showy and playful in relationships. Saturn might incline the person to feel anxious about his attractiveness and social skills. And the Neptune/12th house factor suggests that relationship needs could be repressed or sacrificed in any number of ways. 

Of course, Venus’ position in Leo is still going to operate, but it will be so intermixed with these additional chart factors that knowing exactly how the Leo component will show itself is largely guesswork until the astrologer gets to know the person. Given Venus’ house position and aspects, perhaps the native works as an art therapist with individuals who are institutionalized for mental illness. In that context, he helps them develop confidence in their Venusian social skills by finding ways for his patients to collaborate on a joint art project, like a group painting. Here we see how the Leonian need for self-esteem and creative self-expression finds an outlet within that specialized setting. In effect, he facilitates fulfillment of Leo needs in his patients (12th house) through art (Venus). But this is a far cry from claiming our art therapist is self-absorbed. 

In his personal life, he may worry whether he is sufficiently attractive to find a mate. If he is socially awkward and anxious, we might not be surprised if he focuses too much on the egoic needs of a narcissistic co-worker who is using him to cheat on her husband (he rationalizes that he is saving her from a bad marriage). The possibilities are endless. In short, real people are too complex to be slotted into simplistic categories based upon a single planetary sign position.

I imagine that the astrologer who originally posted his Facebook question knows what I am saying in theory. Most of us have heard the old saw that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However, the way we use the language does not always reflect that. Differentiating statements about planetary configurations from statements about people is a subtle distinction, to be sure. Too often we pay lip service to the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but then make statements about a part of the chart that suggests a greater degree of certainty vis-a-vis a behavioral or event outcome than is actually warranted. 

I take pains to let clients (and students) know that any statement I make about a part of the chart is just that: it’s about the part, not about them. Since the human brain is only capable of synthesizing three or four variables at a time, and since those variables individually and collectively can manifest in a multiplicity of ways, and since people are free to grow and change within the parameters their chart allows, the idea that we should be able to tell people who they are and what’s going to happen to them borders on the preposterous. How my clients express the full complexity of their charts is not something I can know from the chart alone. All of this underscores that being a good astrologer requires a certain tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, without which we are apt to presume things about clients that are at best simplistic, at worse untrue. 

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The Zodiac as Archetype of the Self

The Zodiac as
Archetype of the Self

By Glenn Perry


zodiac as archetype of the SelfIn a previous column we discussed Jung’s assertion that certain events occur as a consequence of an archetypal need being activated within the field of the psyche. By ‘archetypal need’, I mean any need that falls within the purview of a zodiacal sign. Needs for learning and communication, for example, are related to Gemini. Every zodiacal sign constitutes a grouping of self-consistent needs, which can be inferred from behavioral traits and themes that are characteristic of that sign.

Synchronistic experiences reflect the activated needs while also providing a vehicle for their potential satisfaction. In this regard, events are both symbolic and purposeful in that they seem to motivate the individual toward the development of certain universal values. One can decipher in the synchronistic event (as in dreams) an apparent evolutionary tendency of the unconscious. In effect, astrological archetypes symbolize both internal and external motivational factors; they impel behavior, manifest as events, and thereby motivate new behavior in a feedback cycle that assures the individual will continue to evolve by experiencing the consequences of his or her own internal states.
The phenomenon of synchronicity points to an intelligence in nature that actively searches for solutions to obstacles that block the continued unfoldment of life. This transformational process has a teleological quality and is consistent with perennial models that purport life is animated by transcen­dent Forms, or archetypes, which serve as formative patterns and universal ideals for processes occurring on lower levels. In an effort to conform to these patterns and to actualize the ideals they embody, creatures spontaneously organize themselves into states of increasing unity and integrity. This, in turn, is consistent with the perennial claim that living systems are drawn forward by the memory of a higher state of being from which they are descended, and to which they are destined to return.
While the zodiac describes a hierarchical sequencing of archetypal motivations, it is psyche as a whole that describes the master motive—wholeness or unity. This has been variously referred to as self-actualization (Maslow, 1968) or individuation (Jung, 1953), both of which imply that the psyche has a tendency to grow toward the fullest possible actualization of human potential. This tendency to develop in the direction of a stable unity is the central defining feature of Jung’s psychology. It was this conviction that underlay his assertion that the sovereign motive of human beings was individuation, Jung’s term for the intrinsic tendency of the psyche to evolve in the direction of psychic wholeness—that is, to be an indivisible whole. Both Maslow and Jung were proponents of a teleological theory of motivation that postulated some sort of unitive consciousness as the ultimate and final cause of behavior.
Just as Maslow postulated the drive for self-actualization, and Jung the path of individuation, there is an overarching motive implicit in the organization of the zodiac. As an integrated totality, the zodiac symbolizes the potential for wholeness. In effect, the zodiac symbolizes the archetype of the Self, which Jung defined as both the center and the circumference of the psyche. This definition echoes the German mystic Meister Eckhart’s description of God as a circle whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere. As the unity archetype and the organizing principle of the personality, the Self not only signifies the union of opposites within the psyche, but is also a God-image that symbolizes a wholeness toward which the psyche strives.
Here we see an obvious parallel to the zodiac, which has a center—symbolizing the individual—and a circumference symbolizing the 12-fold division of the collective psyche. According to Jung, the archetype of the Self incorporates within its paradoxical unity all the opposites embodied in the various archetypes. Likewise, the zodiac is composed of six archetypal pairs of opposites­—Aries/Libra, Taurus/Scorpio, Gemini/Sagittarius, Cancer/Capricorn, Leo/Aquarius, and Virgo/Pisces—which, once integrated, enables the individual to find a new center, a point of balance that allows for harmony both within and without.
Just as the archetype of the Self is depicted as a process of centering or as a process involving the union of opposites, so the zodiac symbolizes a process of integrating these polarized sign-needs into a unified whole. The Self emerges as the central archetype from the union of all other archetypes; as such, it constitutes a higher order category of archetype. The zodiac, too, constitutes a higher order category than the signs that compose it.
The emerging central archetype is often depicted in images of the mandala. In its simplest form, the mandala is a quadrated circle combining the elements of a circle with a center plus a square, a cross, or some other expression of fourfoldness. As such, the mandala symbolizes the Self, the archetype of totality. The zodiac also has a four-fold structure due to the sequence of Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable that repeats itself four times round the zodiac. Thus the zodiac is a quadrated circle combining the elements of a circle with a center plus a square.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of mandalas are characterized by the circle and the quaternity (see Figure 1). The circle and the square depict the inner and the outer aspects of life. The watery, fluid inner realm is round and signifies a state of flow, while the earthly world of substance is square and correlates to groundedness, or stability.

Mandala as symbol of the Self
Figure 1: A Mandala Image

In the image above, note how the circle is contained within an encompassing square; another square is contained within the encompassing circle, and within that square is another circle, ad infinitum. Again, the circle of the zodiac also contains a fourfold structure, as determined by its four cardinal points that symbolize the beginning dates of the four seasons: Aries (Spring), Cancer (Summer), Libra (Fall), and Capricorn (Winter). Just as mandalas depict the inner and outer aspects of life, so each sign of the zodiac symbolizes an intrapsychic factor and a corresponding outer condition. These outer conditions serve as points of attachment, like ground stakes attached to tent lines that keep the tent centered in one place. Analogously, human beings become attached to people, places, and things, which ground their existence and provide the necessary stresses and strains to fuel an inner process of centering, or integration.
In alchemy, mandalas represent the synthesis of the four elements to produce the quinta essentia, the “Incorruptible One,” which represents the union of opposites necessary for the Mysterium Coniunctionis, or “inner marriage”. Jung considers the mandala image the preeminent symbol for the Self, the archetype of wholeness. Again, the zodiac can also be viewed as a four-fold whole, with its four elements of fire, earth, air, and water—all opposites—that must be brought into balance by finding a center.
Mandalas are ubiquitous across cultures and seem to represent a basic unifying principle that lies at the root of the psyche. Whether we call it the drive for self-actualization, the path of individuation, or depict it in the mandala of the zodiac, the message is the same: wholeness is the ultimate and final motive of the psyche to which all actual experience is subservient.
Because mandala images appear spontaneously in dreams and in certain states of conflict, Jung theorized that they represent an integrative factor. This idea receives support from Buddhism where mandalas function as ritual instruments that assist meditation and concentration. Likewise, the horoscope, by objectifying the psyche through zodiac symbols, provides insight into the nature of consciousness and the meaning of experience. Integration is supported by study of the horoscope because it provides an image of the psyche as a potentially unified (indivisible) whole. Reflection and meditation upon such an image can promote the process of individuation.
Jung (1960) describes how centering brings about a shift of power from the ego to the Self, thus enabling the individual to more readily surrender to a higher power that works through him. Because the Self, of which the mandala is a symbol, is the archetype of unity and totality, it is, therefore, the God within. The individual, in seeking Self-realization and unity, becomes the means through which “God seeks his goal.” By fulfilling his or her own highest potential, the individual is also fulfilling God’s will. This is why Jung felt that the individuation process was ultimately a spiritual journey.
All of this is implicit in the structure of the zodiac, which is a symbol both of microcosm and macrocosm, human and divine, part and whole. The prime dictum of astrology is, “as above, so below;” cosmos and psyche are mirror images of one another. Jung noted that the “quaternity of the One,” his mandala symbol for the Self, is likewise the schema for all images of God. Thus the innermost divine essence of man is characterized by mandala images that can just as well express a God-image, the atman that is Brahman. An astrological chart is an image of Deity—the Universe as a whole—unfolding within the consciousness of an individual human being.
Again, as symbols of the Self, mandalas seem to represent an integrating factor. Jung noted that when consciousness is confused, mandalas might emerge via dreams or fantasies as compensatory attempts at self-healing by imposing an ordered structure. When people are disoriented because of severe psychological conflict, the circular pattern of the mandala compensates the disorder of the psychic state—namely, through the construction of a central point to which everything is related. This can be interpreted as an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature. The psyche instinctively produces a mandala image, which operates teleologically as a lure or a reminder of a potential wholeness yet to be realized.
Just so, the zodiac symbolizes a concentric arrangement of contradictory but reconcilable elements. It is precisely when people feel confused and conflicted that they often seek an astrologer. Like a mandala, the horoscope symbolizes the potential for integrating what appear to be irreconcilable parts into an ordered whole with a new center. For many people, the goal of a good reading is insight and integration, for the horoscope enables one to see that a disordered psychic state and corollary external conflict has a meaning that, once understood, can bring order out of chaos. Seeking a chart consultation may serve the same purpose as a spontaneous mandala image; it is the psyche’s attempt at self-healing. Perhaps the astrologer is employed by the client’s Self and used as an agent of that Higher Will. In this sense, every astrologer and every reading is potentially in the service of an evolutionary imperative that issues forth from a transcendent power—the God within and without.
In next month’s column, we’ll explore how planets are agents of wholeness, psychological functions that strive not only to satisfy their relevant needs, but also to combine with one another in ways that bring about ever increasing psychic unity.


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Jung, C.G., (1953). Psychology and Alchemy. Collected Works, Vol. 12, Bollingen Series 20.  New York: Pantheon.
Jung, C.G., (1960). The structure and dynamics of the psyche.  Collected Works, Vol. 8, Bollingen Series 20.  New York: Pantheon.
Maslow, A. (1968).  Toward a psychology of being.  Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.

The Concept of Integration

The Concept of Integration

By Glenn Perry

the concept of integration

Student: I often hear the terms ‘individuation’ and ‘integration’ used interchangeably. How can you define the concept of integration? And what is the difference between integration and individuation?

Glenn: These are excellent questions. First, let me discuss the concept of integration because it leads to individuation. Psychologically we can define integration as the process of developing and coordinating personality elements into balanced units, leading ultimately to a balanced whole. To the extent that one achieves integration, intrapsychic and interpersonal conflict is reduced. Astrologically, the concept of integration is most pertinent to planetary aspects. It involves 1) fuller development and differentiation in conscious awareness of planetary components; and 2) their subsequent coordination and balancing within the self.

Successful integration yields new, higher level abilities—emergent properties—that result from a successful blending of planetary energies. If integrated, a hard aspect between Mars and Venus no longer connotes a conflict between needs for autonomy and intimacy, but rather a vibrant approach to love graced with rapscallion charm, yet which also allows for assertion, negotiation of differences, and resolution of conflicts as they arise.

Planetary aspects can vary in expression along a continuum of possibilities, with integrated expressions at one end, and disintegrated expressions at the other. Individuals evolve along this continuum of potentiality, unfolding higher possibilities over time. Since the astrologer cannot know how an aspect is manifesting until s/he talks to the client, it is imperative that astrologers take the time to know their clients and to provide interpretations that express an appropriate range of meanings.

The English poet Coleridge said that a work of art is rich in proportion to the variety of interdependent parts which it holds in a unity. We can apply this to the psyche as well. As Yogi Berra put it, “It’s Okay to have butterflies, just make them fly in formation!”

Some confusion may arise as to the difference between ‘individuation’ and ‘integration’. The concept of individuation, or self-actualization (Maslow’s term), always refers to the psyche as a whole and not to any particular part or conflict within the psyche. Whereas ‘integration’ can refer to a particular configuration, such as the integration of Mars opposed Venus, we would not say ‘the individuation of Mars opposed Venus’.

Individuation implies integration, but it refers to a holistic process encompassing the entire psyche, not any particular part or aspect; thus, Jung refers to ‘the journey of individuation’ as that of becoming an indivisible whole over the course of one’s life. The term ‘integration’, on the other hand, can refer both to the strengthening and coordination of particular components and to a process of integrating the chart as a whole. If used in this later sense, of course, the meaning of integration is virtually identical to individuation.

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