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What Is AstroPsychology?

What Is AstroPsychology?


By Glenn Perry

 

what is astropsychology

AstroPsychology is a brand of psychological astrology that is characterized by uncommon rigor, structure, and precision. While firmly grounded in horoscopic astrology’s 2000 year tradition, it builds on this foundation by incorporating concepts from depth psychology, integral spirituality, and new paradigm sciences.

Jung’s archetypal model is a central thread, but AstroPsychology borrows from other schools of thought, too, including psychodynamic theory and developmental psychology. Forged in the fires of actual psychotherapeutic practice, the resultant synthesis accelerates insight and deepens empathic rapport with clients. 

More than Synthesis

On the face of it, AstroPsychology might  appear to be merely a synthesis of psychology and astrology. But it is much more than that. Each discipline—astrology and psychology—is radically transformed and empowered by its marriage to the other. Indeed, there are so many correlations and possibilities for cross-fertilization that one could easily spend an entire lifetime exploring the connection.

In many ways, astrology was the first psychology in that it constituted an early means for understanding the nature of the human being. Rooted in the premise that cosmos mirrors psyche, the ancients systematically observed how the nature and cycles of the planets corresponded to the nature and experiences of human beings.

For all their brilliance, our progenitors practiced an exceedingly simplistic form of astrology in comparison to what we are capable of today. Here, emphasis should be on the word capable, for much of modern astrology is still mired in the dogma of the past.

Ancient and medieval astrologers were preoccupied with so-called “good” and “bad” planetary positions—malefic planets, evil aspects, debilitations, falls, afflictions, and other such ominous categories of meaning. While they were obviously aware that people were subject to a process of ageing that culminated in death, there was little or no concept of evolution, that is, of the psycho-spiritual growth of the individual. Accordingly, astrology was largely limited to superficial trait descriptions, fated events, and dubious predictions of good and bad times for various enterprises.

While some scholars might argue that ancient astrology was actually more complex and technique-rich than its contemporary offshoots, this should not obviate the fact that our ancient forebears were wedded to a fatalistic and deterministic model of the cosmos that precluded them from appreciating how lived experience—that is, fate—can serve as a catalyst for learning and change, and how learning and change can, in turn, alter fate.

Discreditation of Astrology

Astrology was largely discredited following the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries because it was not intelligible within the mechanistic paradigm that constituted the zeitgeist of the new, modern era. Out of this renaissance of scientific thought, psychology was born, and eventually came to replace astrology as our primary means for understanding behavior.

It wasn’t until the first half of the 20th century, following Darwin and then Freud, that the concept of psychological growth and evolution actually entered public awareness. Unencumbered by presuppositions of a fixed character and unalterable fate, early psychologists grounded their theories in that which was observable—human physiology and outward behavior. From these early observations, psychologists developed theories of the human personality.

Psychology was not limited to merely describing types of personality. It was also capable of explaining how people change and develop over time. Developmental psychology evolved in parallel with theories of psychopathology and psychotherapy, the former being concerned with how normal development can be derailed, and the latter with how best to facilitate a process of healing and recovery. In this regard, psychology began to carve out territory that had not previously been explored in the field of astrology.

Birth of Humanistic Astrology

By the latter half of the 20th century, astrologers began incorporating psychological concepts into their thinking. Practitioners realized that they could benefit from the best of both worlds. Following the lead of Dane Rudhyar, the field of humanistic astrology was born, which triggered a resurrection of astrology in the late 60’s and 70’s. By the end of the 20th century, innovators were exploring how Jungian, psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, and various other models might fruitfully be integrated into a new hybrid—AstroPsychology. This project is ongoing.

While traditional astrology described how human behavior correlated to planetary positions, these descriptions were limited to the surface features of the personality. In contrast, AstroPsychology addresses the interior of the psyche, and does so in terms that are significantly more detailed than its predecessors. For instance, it depicts how astrological configurations symbolize basic needs, developmental stages, psychological functions, cognitive structures, internal dialogues, intrapsychic conflict, unconscious complexes, defense mechanisms, and personality disorders—concepts that did not even exist prior to the 20th century.

Essentially, AstroPsychology is a reformulation of astrology in terms of psychological concepts and practices. Perhaps the defining attribute of AstroPsychology is its focus on integrating the birth chart and thus supporting the human potential for growth and change. Implicit in this approach is a focus on spiritual development; thus, almost by definition AstroPsychology is transpersonally oriented.

AstroPsychology as Transpersonal Theory

Transpersonal psychology is that branch of psychology that incorporates spiritual notions into its framework and as such is a more inclusive school of psychology—a “fourth wave,” as Abraham Maslow called it, following psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology. One should not, therefore, equate AstroPsychology with conventional notions of psychology and thereby strip it of its transpersonal dimension.

As a transpersonal theory, AstroPsychology adds significant breadth and depth to psychology, transforming it into a more spiritualized model that links psyche to cosmos and reconnects humanity with its divine heritage. In so doing, it challenges the deterministic presumption of psychology that consciousness is merely an epiphenomenon of its biological substrate and social milieu. Biological determinism and social determinism are but modern versions of the celestial determinism that characterized ancient astrology. Determinism is determinism, no matter what you presume the determining factor to be.

The point is that AstroPsychology is decidedly not deterministic; rather, it regards the psyche as its own cause, an eternal, irreducible essence that is self-generating and capable of manifesting in biological and social conditions. This, in effect, is what the chart symbolizes—an exteriorization of the soul’s pattern in terms of physiology, personality, and environment. Material reality is conceptualized as a synchronistic reflection of an innate, pre-existent psychic structure that evolves over time (possibly lifetimes). From this perspective, the psyche is reflected in, but not caused by, the positions of the planets at the moment of birth.

Conclusion

In sum, AstroPsychology is both a personality theory and a diagnostic tool. As a personality theory, it reveals how the structure and dynamics of the psyche are mirrored in external conditions that provide a stimulus to psycho-spiritual growth. And as a diagnostic tool, it provides unparalleled insight into the underlying, characterological issues that cause distress and impairment. Perhaps the horoscope is best understood as symbolizing an unfolding story in which fate is altered by the development and unfoldment of character.

* * * * *

The Birth of Psychological Astrology

The following article is excerpted from “AstroTherapy:
An Outline of Theory & Practice,” in
Mapping the Landscape of the Soul.
____________________________________

The Birth of Psychological Astrology

By Glenn Perry

It is difficult to appreciate just how far astrology has come over the last 50 years. It wasn’t until the advent of humanistic psychology in the 1960’s that astrologers began to think seriously about the chart in terms of growth and transformation. For those who began studying astrology only recently, it might seem that it was always this way. But it was not. Although Jung (1962) once said “astrology represents the summation of the psychological knowledge of antiquity” (p. 142), the fact is that there was very little in astrology prior to the 1960’s that bore much relationship to what we would generally consider “psychological” today.

Traditional Astrology

Ancient peoples initially perceived the planets as gods that ruled over the various processes of Nature, much as a king ruled over his subjects. The conceived relationship between celestial and terrestrial events was linear, dualistic, and hierarchical: a superior power had dominion over an inferior one. Later forms of astrological philosophy recognized that macrocosm and microcosm are actually interpenetrating and thus their relationship is circular, participatory and co-creative. Yet, this was not the prevalent view in the 1st century BCE when natal astrology was born. A fatalistic model persisted in one form or another right up to the 2nd half of the 20th century. Human beings were perceived as fated recipients of cosmic forces that could be propitiated but not denied. 

Such a gloomy determinism was reinforced by a value laden terminology that too often described the birthchart in ominous terms: malefic, evil aspect, debilitation, affliction, detriment, fall, destroyer of life, hell of the zodiac, and so on. Of course, there were “good” parts to astrology as well, such as benefics and exaltations, but these only served to underscore the determinism of the system. Planets were variously conceived as transmitters of mysterious rays or forces that impacted upon the individual at birth.
 
Understandably, this induced individuals to focus their attention outwards to see what malice or affection the gods might have in store for them. The rigid determinism of traditional astrology did not allow for the possibility of change or growth in consciousness. Instead, people more likely consulted the stars as a means of avoiding a calamitous fate or of exploiting opportunities for manipulating circumstances to personal advantage.
 
The implication of traditional, event-oriented astrology was that the individual was a potential victim of an indifferent universe over which he had little or no control. Accordingly, astrologers were only too eager to give people what they wanted—predictions, advice, warnings, and simplistic solutions to what we now recognize to be complex, psychological problems. At best, traditional astrologers were well meaning individuals interested in the prediction of events and the description of character, and they did no harm. At worst, they were fear peddling parasites who exploited the insecurities and anxieties of the people who purchased their services, and they did great harm.
 
The vast majority of mundane predictions about illnesses, accidents, divorces, shipwrecks, earthquakes, scandals, inheritances, marriages, job promotions, and the like, were utterly useless except to create an addiction to the astrologer whose pronouncements appeared to offer some promise of control over the events in question. But no astrologer could predict with certainty exactly what the events would be, under precisely what circumstances they would take place, or how they would affect the person. Especially lacking in such predictions was the meaning and purpose that the event might have beyond its immediate effects. What relationship did it have to the consciousness of the experiencer? What opportunities did it offer for self-insight and growth in awareness?
 
Likewise, the traditional astrologer’s description of character was generally limited to superficial trait descriptions heavily laden with moral judgments and glib advice. At best, the astrologer confirmed what the individual already intuitively knew. At worst, the astrologer confused or upset the individual with interpretations that were shallow, insensitive, judgmental, overly negative, or just plain wrong. There was little if any attempt to address the deeper dimensions of the chart that hinted at unconscious beliefs and fundamental drives that underlay surface behavior. Character was seen as either static and unalterable, or easily modified by following the cosmically informed counsel of one’s astrologer.
 

Jung’s Contribution to Astrology 

birth of psychological astrology
Carl Jung
Such assumptions appear naive from the perspective of modern, depth psychology. We now recognize that while changing one’s inborn character can be extraordinarily difficult, it can be achieved through courage, persistence, and hard work. It was the Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, who first recognized the vast potential of astrology as a tool for exploring the depths of the human psyche.
 
In various writings throughout his life, Jung made reference to his profound respect for astrology. He asserted that astrology had a great deal to contribute to psychology and admitted to having employed it with some frequency in his analytic work with clients. In cases of difficult psychological diagnosis, Jung would draw up a horoscope in order to have a further point of view from an entirely different angle. “I must say,” said Jung, “that I very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand” (1948).
 
Jung (1976) regarded the signs and planets of astrology as symbols of archetypal processes that originated in the collective unconscious. The archetypes of the collective unconscious were the universal organizing principles underlying and motivating all psychological life, both individual and collective. Whereas mythology placed its emphasis upon the cultural manifestations of archetypes at various times and places in history, astrology utilized archetypes as a language for understanding the basic psychological drives of human beings.
 
As Jung put it, “Astrology, like the collective unconscious with which psychology is concerned, consists of symbolic configurations: the planets are the gods, symbols of the power of the unconscious.” The gods of mythology represented the living forces of the universe that patterned all things. Like Plato’s Forms, an archetype was both subjective and objective; it was evident both in the innate ideas of human consciousness as well as in the fundamental processes of nature; it informed not only human experience but also planetary motions.
 
It was precisely this dual nature of the archetype that enabled the chart to bridge inner character with the outer events that reflected that character. “There are many instances of striking analogies between astrological constellations and psychological events or between the horoscope and the characterological disposition,” wrote Jung (1976). Archetypes, he concluded, were psychoid; they shape matter as well as mind. An astrological configuration defined both the innate disposition of the individual and the particular kinds of outer conditions which the individual was likely to experience. In a 1954 interview, Jung stated “One can expect with considerable assurance, that a given well-defined psychological situation will be accompanied by an analogous astrological configuration.”
 
Jung recognized that the unique and unparalleled ability of astrology to disclose correlations between planetary motions and human experience also made it an accurate way of timing life crises: “I have observed many cases where a well-defined psychological phase or an analogous event has been accompanied by a transit—particularly the afflictions of Saturn and Uranus” (1954).
 
Jung’s observance of correlations between psychological phenomena and astrological data contributed to the formulation of his theory of synchronicity. He defined synchronicity as “the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state” (1955, p. 36). Accordingly, Jung did not hesitate to take the synchronistic phenomena that underlay astrology seriously. Astrology, he thought, worked precisely because of synchronicity. That is, the psychic structure of the person about to be born was “meaningfully paralleled” in the positions of the planets at that time.
 
When looking for a way to test the hypothesis of synchronicity, Jung set up an astrological experiment that correlated planetary configurations, or cross aspects, between the charts of marital partners. He hypothesized that certain cross aspects would appear with greater frequency between the charts of marital partners than between charts of people who had no relationship. “The meaningful coincidence we are looking for is immediately apparent in astrology,” said Jung, “since the astrological data…correspond to individual traits of character; and from the remotest times the various planets, houses, zodiacal signs, and aspects have all had meanings that serve as a basis for a character study” (1955, p. 43-4).
 
Although Jung never developed any systematic theory of astrology, it appears that his own theory of analytical psychology was heavily influenced by it. There are so many parallels that one is almost forced to conclude that at least some of his major concepts were borrowed directly from astrology. In addition to his explicit endorsement of planets as archetypes, and his theory of synchronicity as a means for explaining astrological coincidences, Jung’s notion of two attitude types—extrovert and introvert—is readily recognizable by astrologers as the bi-polar division of the zodiac into two polarities: positive/masculine (extrovert) and negative/feminine (introvert) signs. Likewise, his four function types—intuition, sensation, thinking, and feeling—are roughly paralleled in astrology by the four elements of fire, earth, air, and water.
 
In addition to these more obvious analogues, there are additional correlations that have been explored by astrologers. These include ego/Sun, persona/Ascendant, shadow/Pluto, anima/Venus, animus/Mars, and collective unconscious/Neptune. Difficult astrological configurations, especially those involving hard aspects from the outer planets to Mercury, Venus, Mars, Moon, or Sun, have been observed by astrologers to represent trouble spots in the personality similar to what Jung described as psychic complexes; that is, unconscious, emotionally charged memories, images, and thoughts clustered around a central core.
 

The True Birth of Psychological Astrology

birth of psychological astrology

In the 1930’s, Dane Rudhyar began to reformulate modern astrology in terms of Jung’s analytical psychology. He especially focused on Jung’s idea that the psyche was a dynamic compound of opposing forces in equilibrium, and that the psyche was intrinsically motivated to evolve in the direction of psychic wholeness, a process Jung called individuation.

 
Jung believed that the process of personality transformation was innate, or teleologically motivated. Personality was not merely the product of external forces, but strove purposefully towards a final goal of self-realization. As the individual learned from self-created experience, the archetypal structuring of the psyche became increasingly differentiated, integrated, and whole.
 
Rudhyar (1936) recognized that these ideas were readily adaptable to astrology. The chart, too, was a dynamic compound of opposing forces (signs) in equilibrium. And the various parts of astrology with their myriad aspects and interrelations were symbolic of archetypal forces struggling to transform themselves into an integrated whole. Rudhyar realized that the process of individuation was implicit in every horoscope.
 
By the 1960’s Rudhyar’s project of reformulating astrology received new impetus from the humanistic movement in psychology. Humanistic psychology, as embodied in the writings of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, and others, had arisen in response to the bleak pessimism inherent in the Freudian psychoanalytic view and the robot conception of human potential implied in behaviorism. Both psychoanalysis and behaviorism were deterministic in that they conceived of personality as the effect of causes external to the person himself—genetics, parents, environmental conditions, and so on. Humanistic psychologists countered this trend by developing models which could account for the apparent purposiveness and growth-seeking behavior of human beings.
 
Rather than portray the individual as caught in an interminable struggle between instinctual drives and the inhibiting influence of society (psychoanalysis), or fragment the person into a multitude of conditioned behaviors as seen from an external vantage point (behaviorism), humanists perceived the individual as a unified organism made up of autonomous drives and functions which could be differentiated from one another and integrated into a functional whole greater than the sum of its parts.
 
Humanistic psychologists challenged Freudian theory by postulating that instinctual drives were not dangerous forces erupting out of a primitive id, but healthy impulses that should be valued and trusted. The individual was perceived as a creative, self-actualizing, and self-determining organism capable of making responsible decisions and growing progressively toward an ideal state. Unlike behaviorists who ignored the internal world of consciousness, humanists emphasized the primacy of the subjective element.
 
Whereas behaviorists contended that behavior was solely conditioned by external causes, humanists focused on the relevance of intentionality as an internal cause of behavior. While behaviorists were concerned with how behavior could be manipulated and controlled, humanists emphasized the capacity for personal freedom and choice. In sum, it was not the outer environment that was of central importance to the humanistic psychologist, but the person’s inner world of perceptions, values, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, needs, feelings, and sensations.
 
Rudhyar was the first to recognize how astrology and humanistic psychology complemented one another. The chart, in effect, could be utilized as a tool for mapping the complex inner world that humanists were starting to explore. Just as humanistic psychology was a response to the determinism inherent in psychoanalysis and behaviorism, humanistic astrology was a response to the determinism inherent in traditional, event-oriented astrology.
 
Borrowing from Carl Roger’s (1951) Client-Centered Therapy, Rudhyar (1972) developed Person-Centered Astrology. Rudhyar was less concerned with whether astrology works than on how it could be utilized to assist the process of self-actualization. The real question was, given that astrology works what is its proper use?
 
In 1969 Rudhyar founded the International Committee for Humanistic Astrology and declared that astrology was, or should be, primarily a technique for understanding human nature. He decried the implicit determinism of predictive astrology and focused instead on astrology’s potential as a symbolic language. Instead of seeing planets as transmitters of physical influence, Rudhyar saw them as symbolic of human functions.
 
As a psychological language and diagnostic tool, astrology could serve as a guide to the integration and transformation of personality. Rudhyar’s approach was “person-centered” in the sense that every birthchart was unique; a horoscope represented the individual’s total potential in which no planet was “good” or “bad” but rather each element was part of an organic whole. Events were not interpreted as isolated occurrences with fortunate or unfortunate effects, but as purposeful, phase-specific manifestations of developmental cycles. An event derived its meaning from the stage it represented in a given planetary cycle and contributed to an ongoing process of growth that lead inexorably toward self-realization.
 

Early Humanistic Astrologers

In the 1970’s, the humanistic banner was taken up by such astrologers as Ziporah Dobyns, Richard Idemon, Stephen Arroyo, Liz Greene, Robert Hand, and others. Humanistic astrologers asserted that there is no absolute separation between human and divine; rather, people and planets are woven into the same seamless web of being. Every individual is a focus and channel for the numinous energies that permeate the entire cosmos. Consciousness, not matter, is the primary reality of the Universe. As the human psyche is both reflective of and embedded within the Universal Psyche, it partakes of the creative power of this parent Consciousness. The psyche is bound and animated by the laws and formative principles of the One Being of which all lesser beings are parts. While the universal laws of Absolute Being cannot be violated, the individual is free and self-determining within the boundaries of these laws.
 
Following Rudhyar’s lead, the consensus view held that each person was born in response to a need of the Universe at a particular time and place. The birth chart, in effect, represents the solution to this need; that is, it reveals the purpose of the life and the key to one’s destiny. Put another way, the horoscope is like a “seed-plan” that shows a person’s unique path of development. Just as a seed packet depicts a picture of the plant that the enclosed seeds may eventually become, so the horoscope symbolizes the kind of adult that the individual may become.
 
In this view, nothing occurs in a human life except for a purpose, and this purpose is the purpose of the whole acting through the individual. This whole is often referred to as the core Self, the indwelling divinity that is rooted in a living, purposive universe. The question then becomes not what is going to happen, but what is its meaning? Astrology, said Rudhyar, can be utilized as a kind of karma yoga in which everything that happens is related to who the person is and what he or she may become. Thus the humanistic astrologer should not be concerned with events per se, but only with the response or meaning that the client gives to them. “It is not the predictable events which are important, but the attitude of the individual person towards his own growth and self-fulfillment” (1972, p. 54).
 
The advantage of the birth chart is that it depicts the individual as a whole and thus provides a means for understanding how internal conflicts result in personality fragmentation and the exteriorization of conflict. Individuals split off and deny certain parts of themselves when the needs that underlay the expression of these parts meet with pain and frustration. Various functions get repressed and projected, and thus the individual is reduced to only part of what he or she potentially is.
 
Unintegrated functions are typically experienced in the outer world in the guise of people and situations the individual attracts. What the individual experiences as a problematic situation or relationship can be seen in the chart as an aspect of his or her own psyche. In this way, the horoscope indicates what functions have been denied and projected, and through what circumstances (houses) they will likely be encountered.
 
While the birth chart provides insight into the client’s internal conflicts, it is transits and progressions that tell us when these conflicts will be targeted for healing. These planetary movements indicate the nature, meaning, and duration of various developmental periods, each of which presents its own challenges and opportunities. While transits may correlate with outer events that seem to impinge upon the individual, astrology suggests that these events are the synchronous external manifestation of inner changes. In other words, environment and psyche are reflections of one another. The outer events serve as the trigger or stimulus to promote inner psychological growth. Seen in this way, transits reveal those parts of a person’s nature which are ready to be consciously integrated, explored or transformed.
 
To re-engage a split-off part usually results in crisis since it means that the old order has to die in order for a new, more inclusive order to emerge. The humanistic astrologer, says Rudhyar (1975)
welcomes crises as signs of growth. He attempts to help the client or patient to reorient himself toward the causes of the crisis, to reassesses his goals as well as his motives, to accept what is, but in a new and holistic manner…which eventually should lead to harmony, inner peace, wisdom and compassion. (p. 56-7)
The value of astrology, then, is not its power to predict what the gods have in store for humans, but its ability to reveal the god-like powers that reside in the depths of every human being. Accordingly, the focus in humanistic astrology is inward, not outward, and interpretations are made in terms of personal growth and fulfillment. Simply put, the goal is to help the client realize the potentials that are symbolized by the horoscope. For example, Saturn opposed Venus in the natal chart indicates not simply “misfortune in love,” but the potential to love deeply, enduringly, and responsibly along with the patience and determination to overcome obstacles. While realization of this potential may require a certain amount of hardship and suffering, to predict only hardship and suffering with no understanding of the potential gains involved is shortsighted at best and damaging at worst. Dobyns (1973) put it this way:
Telling people they are fated to experience specific negative events can be highly destructive. The view taken here is that character is destiny, and that by changing our character (our habitual attitudes, beliefs, and actions) we can change our destiny. With self-knowledge, we can integrate conflicts, overcome weaknesses, further develop talents, and move toward balance. As humanistic psychology puts it, we can achieve self-actualization and self-transcendence. (p. 2)

Summary & Conclusion

In many ways, humanistic astrology represents a genuine advancement in the theory of humanistic psychology. Both Jungian and humanistic psychologies have been criticized for their lack of precision in describing the inner nature of the human being. References to archetypes, faculties, functions, impulses and the like tend to be vague and speculative, with no concrete referents for outlining in a systematic manner the structure of the psyche. Humanistic psychology is more a set of attitudes toward the person than a precise and useful theory of personality and human growth.
 
Astrology, on the other hand, provides objective predictable correlates for the structure and dynamics of the psyche while also indicating the directions that growth might occur. The person with Saturn opposed Venus, for example, may shift over time from a negative, fearful attitude toward relationships, “I will resist being controlled by my domineering partner,” to one of responsible and loyal commitment. Such a shift would reflect a more mature, realistic attitude toward relationship, “a good marriage requires patience, humility, and hard work,” while still being consistent with the astrological meaning of Saturn opposed Venus.
 
By the end of the 20th century, humanistic astrology was increasingly referenced as psychological astrology as practitioners began to integrate concepts from a variety of different psychological models. Astrotherapy is the application of psychology astrology to clinical practice. In effect, psychological astrology is both a theory of personality and a diagnostic tool. It presents a complex, multidimensional model of human behavior that depicts the psyche as a hierarchical structure comprised of archetypal needs, cognitive structures, emergent thoughts and behaviors, and corresponding events.
 
It is also a powerful and flexible assessment device that allows the practitioner to discern clues to the formative experiences of childhood, gain insight into the meaning of current events, and target periods of future growth. Unlike traditional, event-oriented astrology, psychological astrology is not concerned with superficial trait descriptions or the prediction of future events. Rather, it can be used to foster empathy for the client’s internal world and thereby enhances the practitioner’s ability to effectively treat psychological problems, modify or remove existing symptoms, and promote positive personality growth and fulfillment.
 
* * * * *
 
References
Dobyns, Z. (1973). The astrologer’s casebook. Los Angeles: TIA Publications.
 
Jung, C. (1948). Letter to Professor B.V. Raman. American Astrology, June, 1948. Jung, C. (1954). Interview with Andre Barbault. Astrologie Moderne, May 26, 1954.
 
Jung, C. (1955). Synchronicity: An acausal connecting principle. In C. Jung & W. Pauli, The Interpretation of nature and psyche (pp. 1-146). New York: Pantheon.
 
Jung, C. (1962). Commentary. In R. Wilhelm (Trans. & Ed.), The secret of the golden flower. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World.
 
Jung, C. (1976). C.G. Jung: Letters (Volume II). Edited by G. Adler and A. Jaffe (R.F.C. Hull, trans.). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
 
Rudhyar, D. (1936). The Astrology of Personality. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company.
 
Rudhyar, D. (1972). Person Centered Astrology. Lakemont, GA: CSA Press.
 
Rudhyar, D. (1975). From humanistic to transpersonal astrology. Palo Alto, CA: The Seed Center.

The New Paradigm And Postmodern Astrology

The following paper was originally presented to a non-astrological audience at the International Forum on New Science, September 27, 1991, at the University of Colorado, Fort Collins, USA., and was subsequently published in the proceedings of that conference. _________________________________

The New Paradigm And Postmodern Astrology

By Glenn Perry

 

 

Psyche  mirrors Cosmos
 Psyche mirrors Cosmos
Giving a talk on astrology may seem somewhat out of place at a conference on “new” science. There is nothing particularly new about astrology. It existed before science, and in this sense could be considered pre-scientific, even anti-scientific, in that astrology was a central feature of the magical worldview which science radically displaced. Astrology, of course, is the study of correspondences between celestial and terrestrial phenomena, most notably the belief that the arrangement of planets at a given point in time is a symbolic reflection of the character and destiny of an individual born at that time.

Astrology’s Bad Reputation
While astrology held an honored and central place in cultures before the scientific revolution, it has since been discredited. There are reasons for this, which I will go into shortly. Suffice to say here that for many intelligent people the claims of astrology appear somewhat ridiculous—a mere pallor game for the intellectually indigent, a crutch for the weak and dependent, a superficial and spurious system which survives as an intellectual relic from a bygone age only among the uneducated, the superstitious, or the just plain stupid.
 
Astrology has been accused of being simplistic, fatalistic, and anachronistic. It has no place in our universities, is scorned by almost all branches of modern learning, and is condemned by the church as heretical. Hostility toward astrology was no where more apparent than in 1975 when a statement attacking and disavowing astrology was co-signed by 186 leading scientists, including 18 Nobel Prize laureates.
 
Given the disreputable nature of astrology, it may be perplexing to know that at one time it was considered the divine art, the “mother of all sciences,” a study worthy of such names as Nicholas Copernicus, Galilei Galileo, Johannes Kepler, and Sir Issac Newton—all of whom were inspired by astrology. We know that Kepler’s laws of planetary motion derive in large part from his search for the music of the spheres, the great cosmic harmony of which Pythagoras spoke. Likewise, Newton’s quest to understand the root cause of astrological influence led to his theory of gravitational attraction.
 
The Organic Worldview
To understand why some of the founding fathers of modern science were themselves astrologers, we must first understand the premodern world view which science was yet to conquer and replace. For thousands of years, people the world over held a common belief: the Universe was alive. The totality of Sun, Moon and stars was experienced as a vast network of living consciousness governed by an infinite intelligence. This Being was not separate from the world, but was immanent in the processes and cycles of nature. While different religions and philosophies referred to this ultimate Being by various names, there was near unanimous agreement that the world was ensouled.
 
In neo-Platonic philosophy, the entire universe was viewed as a living organism. This organism had a hierarchical structure, such that the system of the world was a “Great Chain of Being,” wholes within wholes of ever-widening comprehensiveness, culminating in the Cosmos itself, the ultimate all-embracing whole (Lovejoy, 1936). The stars and planets were expressions of the functions of this organism, just as the various organs of the human body are expressions and instruments of its functions. Every entity in nature corresponded to this general pattern. Each thing was part of a greater whole, while also being a whole which contained its own subordinate parts.
 
Correspondences between levels was the only natural view. Formally known as the doctrine of the macrocosm and the microcosm, the idea was based on an analogy between the whole and its parts; the lower is a microcosm of the higher. Correspondences were explained by the hermetic concept of “similars” and “sympathies.” Similars are those structures which agree in design though they may differ in magnitude. Sympathies are resonant bonds of vibratory frequencies which unite all similars. Thus, the ancients conceived of the Universe as a great system of similars decreasing in magnitude as we descend the orders of life, and united by resonant bonds of sympathy (Hall, 1936). The doctrine that everything in the Universe hangs together mainly by hidden affinities provided the foundation of astrology. Since Man was viewed as a mirror of the cosmic order, every aspect of his physical and psychic anatomy had its counterpart in the celestial realm. Each human being was a microcosm—a miniature universe—reflecting the macrocosm, the Universe as a whole. The essence of this teaching is captured by the hermetic maxim, “as above, so below.”
 
Plato taught that the One Universal Psyche manifested certain forms or ideas which are the models of all things having substance. These divine ideas—the “gods” and “goddesses” of Greek mythology—had their visible form in the planetary bodies. Issuing forth from these divine ideas and flowing downwards through the hierarchy of Being a spiritual energy impregnated nature on mental, biological, and physical levels.
 
The order and content of the world, therefore, depended upon the various movements and interactions of the planetary gods which embodied the ideas for all things. Human minds, or souls, were structured on the same pattern as the world soul. The gods which ruled the heavens were also the innate ideas of human consciousness. The swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, was later to call these inner gods archetypes, and thought them to be structural elements of the human psyche.
 
Plato’s student, Aristotle, taught that the ultimate and final cause of all movement in nature was the end or purpose for which a thing exists. The notion of evolution being drawn forward by divine ideals is known as teleological causation. Aristotle believed that the power of attraction was a better model than propulsion; things are lured more than they are driven. Teleology was thus based on the idea that everything in the physical universe is a consequence of things superior to it. Causation throughout is downward, from superior to inferior, from what is more to what is less. Downward causation suggests that things move by being drawn toward that which fulfills them, fulfillment occurring to the degree that they fashion themselves to its likeness. Humans, for example, behaved in certain ways because they were animated by the same divine impulses as were embodied by the planetary gods. Since the planets seemed far away, downward causation was also referred to as attraction-at-a-distance.
 
Downward causation can be contrasted with efficient, or material causality. In Aristotle’s scheme, the power of the planets was not their ability to cause events on earth in a linear, deterministic fashion, but their resonance with analogous structures and processes at lower levels of the hierarchy. If the behavior of human beings corresponded to the movements of the planets, it was not because the planets caused them to act this way, but because of a hidden affinity between human and divine.
 
From the perspective of astrology, there is no absolute separation between the consciousness of the individual and the consciousness of the Universe in which the individual is embedded. Higher levels of consciousness interpenetrate the lower; attraction-at-a-distance assumes an interdependence between the whole and its parts. Each person is part of the greater whole, just as a wave is part of the ocean from which it arises. In this view, the planets don’t cause events on earth, anymore than a clock causes time. Rather, planetary configurations are symbolic reflections or analogues of cyclic phenomena at the terrestrial level.
 
“As without, so within,” writes Huston Smith (1976), “the isomorphism of man and the cosmos is a basic premise of the traditional outlook” (p. 60). The character and destiny of an individual human being is reflected in the configuration of the cosmos at the moment of birth precisely because that person embodies the divine will of that moment. According to Smith, the great spiritual tradition of humankind can be summed up in three words: Man mirrors cosmos. Man is the universe in miniature, such is the bare statement of the doctrine. After nearly a lifetime of research into comparative religions and philosophies, Smith concluded that this one fundamental truth was discerned and lived by all peoples of the world, universally held by all civilizations, and taught by all the best minds right down to the 18th century. The sole exception to this belief, notes Smith, has been Western Man since the 18th century: “As it had blanketed human history up to that point, constituting what might be called the human unanimity, the force that leveled it must have been powerful, and modern science is the obvious candidate” (p. 5).
 
When the modern world began to take shape around the 17th century, it involved a revolt of common sense against everything speculative, spiritual, or occult. Medieval concepts of ruling spiritual forces were not particularly useful when it came to building machines or healing diseases. While Galileo, Kepler, and Newton were all well versed in the organic world view of the ancients, they were also committed to exploring the ancient mysteries through a powerful new method of knowing, the empirical method.

 

The Scientific Revolution
Empiricism was an objective way of knowing which relied solely upon experience or observation alone. Only that which could be objectified, that is, experienced through the senses of an observer, was considered real. Empiricism promised to reveal new truths. So impressive were the medical and technological accomplishments which derived from this method that it became the “right” way of knowing, at least for science (Griffin, 1988; Smith, 1982).

But there was a price to pay. The objective approach to knowledge implied that the basic elements of nature had no subjectivity, no internal nature, no experiences, perceptions, feelings, purposes, or aims of their own. This ultimately led to the disenchantment of the world (Griffin, 1988). Rather than seeing the world and all things in it as an enchanted garden, ensouled by a divine Being, the world was compared to a vast machine which operated through mechanical principles alone. Mechanism, not organicism, became the reigning paradigm of science.
 
By insisting that all natural phenomena can and should be explained by reference to the laws of matter in motion, mechanism explicitly rejected occult qualities, such as animating spirits, which could not be quantified or subjected to experiment. The most virulent attack of the mechanical philosophers was directed at the neo-Platonic concept of the soul of the world, source of its vital activity. The removal of organic assumptions about the cosmos constituted the death of nature—the most far reaching effect of the Scientific Revolution. Nature was hereafter to be viewed as a system of dead, inert particles moved by external, rather than inherent forces.
 
At the heart of the mechanical philosophy was the denial that natural things had any hidden (“occult”) powers to attract other things. The rejection of action-at-a-distance in favor of action-by-contact explanations was based on the replacement of all organismic and spiritual explanations by mechanical ones. Easlea (1980) has argued that the desire to rule out the possibility of attraction at a distance was, in fact, the main motivation behind the mechanical philosophy and its denial of all hidden qualities within matter.

 

Astrology Replaced By Psychology
Needless to say, a major casualty of the scientific revolution was astrology. It is important to recognize that astrology was never disproven by the methods of science. Rather, its invalidity was a presupposition. The issue was not one of proof, but of paradigm. Astrology was part of the old, organic paradigm of animating spiritual forces, of living intelligences which ruled the heavens and ordered the world below, of correspondences between macrocosm and microcosm, of similars bound together by sympatheia such that human and divine were of one essence. Mechanism was the antithesis of such beliefs. So astrology became outlawed, forbidden, anathema to the scientific mind.

Students who might otherwise have been interested in astrology, studied psychology instead. In this they found a subject which was in every way compatible with mechanistic principles. At the heart of 17th century psychological empiricism was the denial that the human soul was shaped by innate ideas which originated in the mind of a Universal Being. John Locke insisted there were no innate ideas which pre-existed in the mind, and thus no possibility of a resonance with higher intelligences which might conceivably work through the soul. Rather, all mental content was alleged to come directly from experience; the mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate, waiting to be imprinted by the impact of material causes originating in physical conditions outside the body. By the 18th century, not only was the soul stripped of its innate ideas, its very existence was doubted. Whereas the organic worldview of astrology regarded man as a partially divine performer in a purposeful cosmic drama, the new psychology considered him to be a mere animal inhabiting a blindly mechanical universe.
 
Generally speaking, modern scientific psychology has remained faithful to the 18th century view that humans are basically animals, their nature and character the effect of random, externally originating forces such as genes and social conditions. They are not descended from the gods above, nor are they evolving anywhere in particular. In effect, the human being resembles nothing so much as a victim of circumstance. While there have been some notable departures from this tradition in recent years, a brief review of the evolution of psychological theory reveals that almost all tend to incorporate deterministic assumptions based on mechanistic reasoning (Lowry, 1971).
 
Meanwhile, astrology has remained more or less stagnant for the past 300 years, a discredited and neglected system of thought unlikely to be vindicated so long as it remains ostracized from our schools and universities. Not surprisingly, astrology attracts many of the fringe elements of our society—people who for various reasons tend to identify with the dark, oppressed, rejected system of belief that astrology has come to represent. Like a child who has for too long been locked up in the basement by an abusive and abandoning parent, astrology has remained primitive, undeveloped, and crude by modern academic standards.
 
Because it is not considered a valid profession, there are no licensing boards to assure that astrologers meet even minimal standards of education, ethics and competence. Consequently, there are very few astrologers who can present their case in a manner consistent with scientific standards of responsibility. Instead, there is a huge amount of nonsense published in the field—like Sun sign books and newspaper horoscopes—that continue to damage astrology’s credibility. Individuals who attend college and are trained in research methodologies are unlikely to apply this training to a subject which is not even taught, and one which is disreputable and potentially damaging to their careers.

 

The Rebirth of An Organic Worldview
The situation, however, may not be as hopeless as it seems. After all, it was not scholarly research that led to the rejection of astrology, but abandonment of the paradigm which supported it. If astrology is to have its honor restored, its supporting paradigm must likewise be resurrected. Many philosophers of science agree that such a paradigm shift is actually occurring right now in the late 20th century. Evidence suggests that the mechanistic paradigm has pretty much played itself out. Ironically, it is the growth of science itself which has gradually eroded confidence in many of the cherished theories and models which flowed naturally from the mechanistic paradigm. Application of the empirical method has led to a proliferation of blind alleys in virtually every field of modern science.

New physics, as articulated in such books as Fritjof Capra’s (1976) The Tao of Physics, is actually more in accord with spiritual traditions which postulate a universe of pure consciousness. In these new models, ultimate reality is described as seamless, or whole, and there is no absolute separation between events or objects in space-time (Zukav, 1979; Davies, 1988). Bell’s theorem, for example, states that action-at-a-distance can influence all points in space simultaneously, without any forces traveling through space. Similarly, David Bohm’s (1980) holonomic theory of quantum physics states that every part of the Universe bears witness to the structure and process of the whole, i.e., the whole is contained in the part. This idea simply restates in modern terms the hermetic maxim, “as above, so below.”
 
Another development in new physics, the Anthropic Principle, states that certain pure numbers called the constants of nature—analogous to Platonic forms—seem specially contrived to facilitate the evolution of conscious intelligence as manifest in human beings, thus reviving the ancient doctrine of teleological causation (Barrow & Tipler, 1986). And in evolutionary biology there is a veritable avalanche of evidence indicating that evolution is not the chance outcome of random mutations preserved by natural selection, but rather is a purposeful and self-organizing process guided by an immanent intelligence (Denton, 1985; Thaxton, Bradley, & Olsen, 1984).
 
All these developments and many more are leading to what David Roy Griffin (1988) has called “the reenchantment of science.” A number of philosophers are now asserting that there is a scientific revolution occurring at the present time which involves a recovery of certain truths and values from various forms of premodern thought (Harman, 1986; Smith, 1982; Tarnas, 1990). British biologist, Rupert Sheldrake (1991), details these recoveries in his new book: The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God. These developments include the replacement of mechanism with an organismic paradigm; the presence of intrinsic purpose throughout nature; the presence of a divine whole in all the parts; attraction-at-a-distance or downward causation; and the history of the Universe as a self-creative, self-organizing, conscious Being. What is most interesting about these developments is that implicit in the new, organismic paradigm of postmodern science are the very principles upon which astrology is based.

 

The Resurgence of Astrology
If psychology is to keep pace with current thinking in the hard sciences, it may have to re-evaluate some of its major premises. Chief among these is the notion of the human being as a product of externally originating forces, drifting aimlessly in an alien, material world with no particular meaning or overarching purpose. Instead, psychology can be revisioned such that human beings are conceptualized as rooted in a living Universe, the rhythms and cycles of which flow through body and mind alike. This, of course, was the astrological world view. The possibility of a creative synthesis of modern and premodern truths may lead to an integration of psychology and astrology in a new, postmodern, astro-psychology.

This is precisely what is happening among at least some practitioners. Increasingly, psychotherapists are discovering that astrology can be reformulated as a contemporary psychological language and diagnostic tool (Idemon, 1988; Perry, 1988). The advantages of such a conception are immense. What other personality theory allows visible access to the psyche of a human being? Like an X-ray of consciousness, the horoscope reveals the underlying motives, beliefs, and internal dialogues which constitute the unique personal mythology of each client. Moreso, astrology is consistent with parapsychological research that shows human consciousness to be non-local, i.e., not constrained by brain and body (Dossey, 1989; Krippner, 1988). Each symbol in the horoscope is a corollary to both psychological and environmental phenomena. By using the chart as a diagnostic tool, the psychotherapist is able to connect the highly abstract, intrapsychic reality of the client with the concrete events of his interpersonal world. Not only does this assist the therapist in the process of correct interpretation, it also makes available a rich storehouse of metaphors to explicate the subtleties and consequences of the client’s inner life. Like dreams, events of the outer world symbolize inner psychic states. Thus, events are metaphors of cognitive structures, and can be introduced as such during the course of psychotherapy.
 
Astrology also shows the timing of events. As the actual planets continue in their orbits, their movements correspond with the unfoldment of specific types of processes for specific periods of time in the life of the individual concerned. For example, I was working with a depressed, 40 year old man whose problems stemmed from a rather toxic relationship with his mother during childhood. He described her as severely controlling, abusive, and rather paranoid. This was reflected in his chart by placement of the Moon, which in astrology symbolizes the mother. His Moon was in the sign of Scorpio in the 8th house squaring Pluto. The meaning of this complex of factors suggests exactly the type of mother he experienced, as well as the kinds of problems he was having—namely, that he was depressed, emotionally constricted, and severely afraid of women. After six months of therapy, I noted that Pluto had moved to the exact degree of Scorpio that his Moon occupied at the time of his birth. In astrological parlance, this is called transiting Pluto conjunct natal Moon.
 
Because Pluto in this man’s chart was associated with the type of mothering he received and thus the kind of mother he internalized, it could be predicted that his mother-complex would be strongly activated for exactly that period of time that Pluto was over his Moon—in this case, for several months. I was not surprised, therefore, when my client began to report some difficult and trying experiences with a new boss at his place of work. This new boss—a woman—was in every sense a stand-in for his mother. She was castrating, controlling, intimidating, rather paranoid, and undermining of his power and authority. His challenge was clearly to stand up to this woman and work out with her precisely what he had not been able to do with his mother. In effect, the mother which he had internalized was now reappearing before him at work, the embodiment of an aspect of his own psyche. I emphasize that this was not simply a projection, or transference distortion. She was, for all practical purposes, his mother. In astrology, Pluto transits are associated with healing and transformation. Accordingly this was a pivotal time in his work with me, during which he was able to resolve many of the issues that had brought him into therapy.
 
Now how can we explain this kind of synchronicity? Why is it that at the precise period of time that Pluto was over his Moon he had a life changing experience which was the key to resolving his depression? He had no knowledge that Pluto was transiting his Moon. He had no knowledge of the astrological meaning of such a transit. Yet, the meaning and duration of the transit corresponded perfectly to the actual events he experienced.
 
I want to stress that examples like this are not unusual. There is no greater proof of astrology’s validity as a diagnostic and prognostic tool than its daily application in clinical practice. Each hour of every working day I witness how the charts of my clients reflect their underlying psychodynamics, their interpersonal relations, the apparently random events they encounter, as well as key periods in their process of growth and change. I have come increasingly to appreciate that events do not occur randomly and no one is a victim. As this case illustrates, events are not only meaningful, they are also purposeful in that they frequently provide the stimulus for growth. Every problem is an opportunity for change, customized precisely for the individual. The specifics of the problematic event seem to constitute the key for unlocking hidden potentials within the personality. Astrology’s unique value is that it provides a symbolic language for bridging subjective with objective reality and for deciphering the process of change which is inherent in these relations.
 
It should not be surprising that psychotherapists are beginning to utilize astrology both in this country and abroad. In 1987, I founded the Association for Astrological Psychology, an organization exclusively devoted to the integration of astrology and psychology. At present we have approximately 3000 members, many of whom are professional therapists and counselors interested in using astrology as a diagnostic tool in ongoing work with clients. I mention this not so much to promote our organization, but to point out that astrology is not limited to newspaper horoscopes, Sun sign books, and 900 numbers. Indeed, as many therapists are recognizing, astrology is an elegant archetypal language of the human condition, compatible with almost any psychological model. Most importantly, it re-establishes a connection with something beyond our genomes, our parents, and our society. Astrology reunites us with a living cosmos. In a conscious universe, people and planets are woven into the same seamless web of being. There is no absolute separation between inner and outer realities. Neither is one a cause of the other. In a postmodern, astro-psychology, the human being is once again a partially divine performer in a purposeful cosmic play.
 
References
 
Barrow, J., & Tipler, F. (1986). The anthropic cosmological principle. New York: Oxford University Press.
 
Bohm, D. (1980). Wholeness and the implicate order. London: Routledge Kegan Paul.
 
Capra, F. (1976). Modern physics and eastern mysticism. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 8, 20-40.
 
Davies, P. (1988). The cosmic blueprint. New York: Simon & Schuster.
 
Denton, M. (1985). Evolution: A theory in crisis. Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler.
 
Dossey, L. (1989). Recovering the soul: A scientific and spiritual search. New York: Bantam.
 
Easlea, B. (1980). Witch hunting, magic and the new philosophy: An introduction to debates of the scientific revolution 1450-1750. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.
 
Griffin, D.R. (1988). Introduction: The reenchantment of science. In D.R. Griffin (Ed.), The reenchantment of science (pp. 1-46). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
 
Hall, M.P. (1936). The philosophy of astrology. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society.
 
Harman, W. (1986). Scientific positivism, the new dualism, and the perennial wisdom. [Monograph]. Sausalito, CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences.
 
Idemon, R. (1988). Astrology and the quest for a universal psychological model. The Astrotherapy Newsletter, 1(1), 1-7.
 
Jung, C. (1960). The structure and dynamics of the psyche. Collected Works, Vol. 8, Bollingen Series 20. New York:Pantheon.
 
Krippner, S. (1988). Parapsychology and postmodern science. In D.R. Griffin (Ed.), The Reenchantment of science (pp. 129-140). New York: State University of New York Press.
 
Lovejoy, A. (1936). The great chain of being. London: Harvard University Press.
 
Lowry, R. (1971). The evolution of psychological theory. Chicago: Aldine.
 
Perry, G. (1988). Astrology as a diagnostic tool in psychotherapy. The Astrotherapy Newsletter, 1(1), 1-6.
 
Sheldrake, R. (1991). The rebirth of nature: The greening of science and God. New York: Bantam.
 
Smith, H. (1976). Forgotten truth: The primordial tradition. New York: Harper & Row.
 
Smith, H. (1982). Beyond the postmodern mind. New York: Crossroad.
 
Tarnas, R. (1990). The western mind at the threshold. The Astrotherapy Newsletter, 3(4), 1-5.
 
Thaxton, C., Bradley, W., & Olsen, R. (1984). The mystery of life’s origin: Reassessing current theories. New York: Philosophical Library.
 
Zukav, G. (1979). The dancing Wu Li masters. New York:William Morrow.

Psychological and Predictive Astrology

Psychological and Predictive Astrology
A Complimentary Perspective

By Glenn Perry

 

psychological and predictive astrologyDoes the real value of astrology reside in its insights into human behavior or in forecasting the future? When this question was posed some years ago by AFAN Newsletter editor, Gloria Star, members were asked to send in their opinions.1 As an astrologer who is also a psychotherapist, it should not be surprising that I came out strongly in favor of “insights into human behavior.” The caveat, however, is that predictive astrology can be utilized in the service of psychological insight and spiritual growth. The dichotomy between psychological and predictive astrology need not be absolute.

I do believe that astrology’s greatest value resides in its insights into human behavior. By “insights” I mean information that reveals to the individual (1) a deeper understanding of his or her basic needs and core beliefs, and (2) the habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior that derive out of these deep structures. But these insights can be integrated with knowledge of transits & progressions and the various opportunities for growth they provide.

 
An Ethical Stance

In attempting to formulate an ethical stance about how astrology should or should not be used, I think we have to start with our basic metaphysical assumptions about the nature of the Universe. We need to ask, what is the purpose of life? My personal belief is that our individual consciousness derives from and is embedded within the greater consciousness of the Universe. Further, this greater consciousness is always assisting us in the unfoldment of our innate capacities—growing us, as it were, so that we can become more fully conscious of our true identity. I believe the purpose of life is to progressively evolve a deeper and wider connection to this parent consciousness until we ultimately realize our at-one-ment with it.

Since I am guided by these beliefs, my interest in doing astrology is to help individuals become aware of, and attuned to, this final goal. So for me, forecasting the future always occurs in the context of facilitating the client’s growth. I might speculate with the client as to the challenge or meaning of a particular period. And I might discuss the kinds of events and opportunities that are typical of a transit. The overriding question, however, is how can the individual best harmonize with the intent of the Universe?
 
Since I believe the Universe has intentions for us, I am not inclined to help my clients control or exploit their fate. I am interested in helping them learn from it. Accordingly, my ethics prevent me from advising clients on how to take advantage of a transit for personal gain or profit. I don’t tell people when they should or should not do things, like get married, start a business, quit a job, get a divorce, or take a vacation. It has been my observation that whatever the individual does or experiences is always consistent with the nature of the transit anyway. What would be the purpose, then, of trying to outsmart such a profoundly intelligent and obviously purposeful cosmos? Is there not a certain hubris when we muddle in such matters?

 
The Case of Nancy Reagan

This question was brought into sharp focus in the wake of the 1988 controversy surrounding Nancy Reagan, wife of then American President, Ronald Reagan. It seemed that every paper in American had picked up the story of how Mrs. Reagan consistently and habitually relied upon astrologers Jeane Dixon, Carol Righter and Joan Quigley throughout her and her husband’s career. Apparently, the Reagan’s were interested primarily in how astrology could guide them in the timing of specific events such as when to schedule press conferences, airplane flights, political meetings, and the affairs of state in general.

According to former White house aide Donald Regan, “Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco [Joan Quigley] who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in favorable alignment for the enterprise.”2 This all seems natural enough. So what if Nancy’s dependence on Quigley “had a hammerlock on the business of the White House,” as Regan put it. When the story broke, many of us were upset by how astrology was being portrayed in the media. In Time magazine, Lance Morrow gibed “Perhaps Reagan’s astrology is merely the metaphorical equivalent of his jelly beans.”3 The consensus was clear: we were either fools or frauds. But as astrologers, we know that astrology can be accurate in the prediction of events. And such information can be useful, right? So what’s the problem?
 
Separate from the question of belief or disbelief in astrology is the controversy surrounding its proper use. It is this issue that underlies the larger problem of how astrology is portrayed in the media. The picture Donald Regan drew of the First Lady was that of a nervous, scheming and controlling woman intent on “protecting Ronnie” from all manner of imagined disasters. Nary a decision could be made without her having to consult with Quigley in San Francisco. When Nancy didn’t get her way she would whine, shout, intimidate, and ultimately eliminate the people who opposed her. Her hypervigilance and apprehensive expectation that something bad was going to happen to her Ronnie (and by implication, herself) is typical of people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. These people frequently appear “on edge,” impatient, and irritable—exactly as Nancy was portrayed by Regan and numerous others, including her own daughter.
 
How can astrology be of help to someone like Nancy Reagan? By feeding her with information that says, essentially, “this is a bad day for a press conference, stay home”? If this is the kind of help we offer our clients then perhaps the cure is worse than the disease. Predicting “bad” days and “good” days for various enterprises can only reinforce the very fears and control issues that motivated Nancy to seek help in the first place. In effect, astrology becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

 
If Character is Fate, then Focus on Character

This is the old debate between traditional, event-oriented astrology and the newly emerging psychological models. Ultimately, we all have to make the choice: (1) to help clients avoid pain and manipulate conditions, thereby appealing to their need for control (traditional astrology); or (2) help clients see events as opportunities for growth and insight, to be embraced with courage and equanimity (psychological astrology). When I say “embrace,” I am not suggesting we advise clients to simply roll over and take their licking, but to exercise their fundamental human freedom of choice. People are free not only in what they intend, but also in how they respond to events that befall them.

Choices should be guided by one’s values, ideals, and intuition, not by fear of a capricious and malevolent fate. To the extent that one learns from experience, subsequent experience may be altered. This puts the onus of responsibility on the individual. Perhaps the greatest contribution of 20th century astrology lies in the simple idea: character is fate, and if we can alter our character, we can mutate our fate.
 
It seems to me that event-oriented, predictive astrology is largely in the service of the neurotic needs of the client. The essence of neurosis is fear and the subsequent urge to control outcomes. Neurotic people tend to be manipulative, like Nancy Reagan. They crave information that will give them an “edge” on what is perceived as a largely unpredictable and hostile world. They lack faith, both in themselves and in Nature as a whole. It is precisely this sort of anxious and distrustful person who tends to seek the advice of predictive astrologers.
 
Astrology’s portrayal in the media reflects this rather pathetic state of affairs. Astrologers are depicted as pandering to the neurotic needs of their clients, reinforcing the very fears that bring them to their door. No wonder we are an object of ridicule and scorn. This is little more than psychic drug pushing, a sad irony for Mrs. Reagan. Noting the First Lady’s craving for her next astro-fix, perhaps Donald Regan should have told her “just say no.”
 
Please understand that when I refer to “predictive” astrologers, I am not referring to astrologers who make predictions, but to astrologers who make predictions and provide advice with minimal concern for the client’s psychological growth or capacity for autonomy. Note that “advice” is separate from “prediction,” for one can make predictions without necessarily giving advice. Psychological astrologers make predictions, too, but with maximal regard for the client’s development as a person. Accordingly, they are more likely to focus on the client’s responsibility to choose, and less likely to advise particular courses of action. The client is not told what to do, but how to understand the quality of the time. While the client must make her own choice, it should ideally be an informed one. Thus transit and progressions are discussed in a context that reveals the “challenges and opportunities” that accrue during those specific periods.
 
An event presents the experiencer with a two-pronged choice—how to interpret the event, and how to respond to it. Astrology’s value lies not in advising the client what to do, but in providing a deeper, more archetypally insightful way of understanding the meaning of the time and what it requires from the person. Accordingly, it is less important for the astrologer to predict events than to describe specific qualities of durations of time. Within a given time period, any number of events may occur that are consistent with the meaning of the planets involved. Yet, once the higher meaning is discerned, I believe the client is more likely to act in harmony with the Universal intent.
 
Certainly there is a place for prediction in astrology, but I believe it should be a psychologically enlightened prediction that focuses on the meaning of a transit as an opportunity for learning rather than an occasion for evasive action. Likewise, there are applications of astrology in business, in finance, and perhaps even in politics that need not cater to the petty fears and manipulative tendencies of the client. To show I am not entirely against predictions, I will venture one here: as we move away from our tradition-bound role as palliative to the neurotically inclined, the media will be more inclined to give us the respect we and astrology deserve.

 
The Meaning of Events

The underlying philosophical difference between psychological and predictive astrology comes down to the question of why are we here? From a psychological perspective, the answer would seem, to realize more fully our human potential. A strictly predictive astrology, however, implies that one’s fate is more or less fixed and that one’s ultimate good lies in avoiding pain and maximizing pleasure. Whereas psychological astrology assists individuals in discovering how they are creating their own fate, predictive astrology merely describes fate without relating it to the inner, psychological life of the person. From this perspective, events have no meaning beyond being “good” or “bad.” To say that they are “karma” from past lives, to be suffered and endured (or perhaps avoided through the cosmically informed counsel of one’s astrologer), does little to help people live more constructively in the here and now.

I believe that fate can be positively altered through a process of internal healing and integration. The real meaning of events is that they constitute feedback—that is, information that reflects where the individual is at in terms of health and wholeness. And their real value is that they stimulate growth in precisely those areas where the individual most needs to change. Again, what is important about a transit is not the event itself, but its meaning. And meaning can be inferred from the archetypal components of the transit even before the event occurs. Thus while we may not be able to predict the event’s concrete outcome, its archetypal significance is revealed by the relevant planetary configuration, which can be interpreted. This is the whole point: not to predict the event, but to disclose the nature and requirements of a specific period of time. The value of what actually occurs—the event itself—lies in its ability to mirror one’s present state and to catalyze a future one.
 
For example, if a married woman’s transiting Pluto was about to oppose her Sun in the 7th, the astrologer might reasonably predict an upcoming crisis in her marriage and/or the life of her husband. The astrologer may then advise that she protect her half of the couple’s joint finances and dig a psychological bomb shelter to shield her from the terrors she is about to face. However, if this were the extent of his help, then an important opportunity would have been missed.
 
A psychological interpretation of the transit would add that our client’s crisis will require her to (1) give it a meaning, and (2) respond in a particular way. It is in the department of “meaning making” that the astrologer can be the most help. For his client may have to face something that was heretofore hidden in her marriage, which may be painful and threatening. Pluto transiting the Sun is going to surface aspects of herself that have been repressed and, perhaps, projected onto her husband. The transit, as one astrologer quipped, is the equivalent of a psychological enema. Yet, whatever occurs during this period will provide her with an opportunity to work through her fears and face something in her partner that she has repudiated in herself. While this might be difficult, a courageous confrontation with the shadow (Pluto) is always empowering, and may ultimately transform her identity, increase her self-esteem, and enhance her creativity (Sun). It might also heal her marriage.
 
Now if the client understands that she has a choice in how she interprets and responds to the situation, then it would be counter-productive for the astrologer to tell her what to do. A predictive astrologer might warn her to line up a good lawyer and get ready for an ugly, painful war. Maybe he would advise her to wear a particular amulet, as they do in Vedic astrology. Conversely, a psychological astrologer would not provide her with advice, but with encouragement. He might express faith in her ability to rise to the challenge and to use the crisis to accelerate her psychological and spiritual growth. Or he might help her explore what she most fears in herself, in her husband, or in their marriage, and provide her with support in obtaining therapeutic services that strengthen her capacity for dealing with marital conflict. Again, the focus is not on what is going to happen, but on what it means and how she is going to handle it.

 
What Deepok Says

Recently I read an interview with physician and New Age sage, Deepok Chopra, who combines Hindu, Buddhist, and Western thought with the latest research in quantum physics. “There are about 300 million things happening in my body every second when you measure all the biochemical activities,” he said. “Each cell seems to know what the other cell is doing. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be able to coordinate its activities. At the same time, the body is monitoring the movement of stars. Biological movements are a function of planetary movements—circadian, seasonal, etc. There is an underlying intelligence that organizes the infinity of things happening in the Universe and connects all things with each other.”4

If this is true, and there is a mountain of scientific evidence and spiritual testimony to attest that it is, then surely the Universe is orchestrating my life in accordance with a divine plan. Chopra claims there is an underlying intelligence that organizes the infinity of things happening in the Universe. As astrologers, this is not hard to believe. The philosopher Manly Hall put it succinctly: “astrology is the study of the anatomy and psychology of God.” Given the stupendous intelligence that is operating behind the scenes, is it really necessary to advise our clients on what they should or should not do? Can we presume to know the 300 million things that are interconnecting and evolving under the guidance of a Supreme Being?

 
Predicting A Career Transition

Recently a man came to me for a consultation. He had a good job with a solid company, and had worked for this company for many years. A new company, however, had unexpectedly offered him an exciting and potentially lucrative position. But this new company didn’t have a track record and its future was uncertain. If he left his old job and the new company folded, he would lament his decision. “What should I do?” he asked anxiously. “Will the new company make it? Will I succeed? What do my transits say?”

I noticed that Neptune would be squaring his natal Sun over the next nine months, making three exact passes. The first was only weeks away. Clearly he was in transition and there was a strong possibility that the exciting new job would prove to be a bust, a mere fantasy, a washout that leaves him unemployed and disillusioned. However, if he keeps his old job, Neptune is not going to stop its movement in the heavens; he is still going to have the transit. So what happens if he stays with the old company? Will he become increasingly disillusioned with his current job, suffer remorse that he let a golden opportunity slip by, regret that he is stuck in a stagnant swamp of boring routine and predictable outcomes?
 
One can interpret the nature of the transit either way. Whether he stays or leaves, a core theme in his life will be Neptune square Sun—potential illusion, confusion, and disillusionment; there may be hardship, loss, or an ending of some sort. Perhaps his current company will go through a downsizing and he will be replaced. However, if he leaves his old job, he will probably go through a span of relative chaos on the new job, with lack of clearly defined duties, feelings of helplessness or confusion, perhaps a sense of being invisible or not having an impact. Of course, there can be positive outcomes, too—a sense of inspiration, of having the consummate job, of doing something that serves the greater whole, of sacrificing for an ideal. The point is: he has the transit in either case.
 
Certainly all of the above possibilities should be discussed with the client. However, discussing potential event outcomes is not the same thing as telling the client what he should do. Since I am not going to advise him vis-à-vis his job decision, what can I say? Again, my inclination is to describe the quality and opportunity of the transit—a time to deepen your intuition, a period of forming a vision of your highest good, a sense of limitless possibility, a potential spiritual awakening. “But whatever happens,” I say, “there will be a test of faith—can you surrender? Can you trust the Universe no matter what happens?” For that is what will be required of him. I would also point out that while there is always the possibility of loss during such a transit, there is also an opportunity for softening, elevating, and refining character—for transcending one’s ego and deepening one’s faith in a higher power. It is, in short, a time for “letting go and letting God.”
 
As to whether he should leave his current job, there is no answer I can give him, for one of the core meanings of the transit is the opportunity it affords—no, requires, for increasing one’s trust in an inner source of knowing. If I take that away by recommending a specific course of action, I do him a great disservice. I steal his choice, for it would be interfering in his fate to predict an outcome regarding the new company. The important thing is not what is going to happen, but how he accommodates to his fate—if it is difficult, does he bemoan it with bitter despair? Will he cry out like Job, “why me, God!?” Or will he embrace it with courage and equanimity? I believe our value as astrologers lies less in telling people what to do than in encouraging them to trust themselves and the larger Universe. I am reminded of Max Ehrmann’s letter to his son.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.5
 
Psychological and Predictive Astrology

I want to reiterate an important point: the question is not whether astrologers should make predictions, but how. When I refer to an event-oriented, predictive astrologer, I am referring to someone who focuses more or less exclusively on events while making little if any attempt to connect the conditions of the outer world to those of the inner world. In other words, a predictive astrologer is one who makes predictions and advises clients but does not invite the client to explore how his habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving might be reflected by the events in question. Predictions of this sort do not empower the client to gain insight or actualize potentials over time.

I like to say that with predictive, event-oriented astrology the most you can be is right. The astrologer may successfully predict the way some part of the chart manifests, yet unless the client gains insight into herself and her ability to influence chart outcomes, the interpretation has little or no psychological value. Conversely, a psychological astrologer is one who can and does make predictions, but frames those predictions in a context that facilitates the client’s growth and development.
 
The British astrologer, Dennis Elwell, states that a good interpretation is like a triangle with three points: (1) the psychological dimension, (2) the event dimension, and (3) the meaning dimension that unites the first two.6 Without including this third point, the client may be left with the impression that the relationship between his subjective and objective experience is a linear, one-way causal train. That is, he might assume that consciousness is the by-product of environmental “influences,” whether these influences are parental, genetic, social, or cosmic. Ironically, this is the view of almost all psychological theories of personality.
 
Astrology, however, shows that events are also, in some strange synchronistic way, a product of the consciousness of the experiencer. This implies that the relationship between inner and outer is circular, not linear. If fate produces character, then the reverse is also true: character is fate. The connection is not a linear, cause-effect relation, but circular, with one feeding into the other so that the two are related by mutual interdefinition. Fate is soul spread out in time, while also being the means whereby soul unifies itself by learning from Self-created experience.
 
Accordingly, the splitting of astrologers into two camps—the psychological and the predictive—is a false dichotomy. Psychologically oriented astrologers also make predictions, but do so in a manner that is different from astrologers who focus primarily on events without reference to the significance of the client’s inner world. Because the birth chart symbolizes both subjective and objective experience, the point is not whether one emphasis or the other should prevail, but how to show a meaningful connection between the two. Thus there should be no ‘versus’ between psychological and predictive astrology.

 
A Challenge From Dennis Elwell

In a recent correspondence with British astrologer, Dennis Elwell, he recounted a personal experience that seemed to challenge my contention that psychological and predictive approaches are complementary. Elwell argues that sometimes events occur for which there is no psychological explanation or meaning. He writes:

I was expecting some people for supper at a time when transiting Mars exactly squared my Mercury. Since I am fond of practical experimentation, I resolved on this occasion to be circumspect, and to stifle any hint that I might not be in utter agreement with any propositions my guests might advance. Supper proceeded sweetly, until I noticed that a young man was working himself up to a confrontation with me. As I ducked and weaved he became more vociferous, and finally, on the pretext of some long forgotten incident, he threw his wine across the room. Next morning he apologized ‘for getting upset’. What can you say? There was a sense in which something operating through me (it was my transit, after all) had given him ‘permission’ for the outburst. (If you are of that persuasion, you might say my own aura was attracting it.) But where does psychology come into it?
 
Elwell’s example actually provides an excellent illustration of psychological astrology. When Dennis noticed that transiting Mars was squaring his natal Mercury on precisely the evening that he was having friends over for dinner, he decided to “experiment” with the transit. Rather than allowing himself to be drawn into a destructive argument, he “ducked and weaved” and did his best not to act out the negative side of Mars-Mercury. In this manner, my British friend utilized his transit as an opportunity for growth. He held his ground and remained engaged in conversation, but not in a style that was overly aggressive or reactive. Like a bullfighter, his intention was to harmonize with the energy of the occasion. This, in my opinion, represents a healthy, integrated expression of the transit, even if that was not his conscious intent.
 
Elwell then asks, rhetorically, “But where does psychology come into it?” It came into it when, upon reflection, he decided to see if he could influence the outcome of the evening in a positive way. Had Dennis not made that decision, he might easily have become drawn into a rather nasty confrontation. As it was, his behavior resulted in an apology from his guest the following day. Not bad all things considered.
 
Elwell’s story shows how astrology is utilized in a psychological way whenever one uses the system to enlighten oneself as to how inner factors might affect outer conditions. By using his understanding of the Mars-Mercury transit, Elwell endeavored to affect a specific period of time in a positive way. He implicitly recognized that the meaning he attributes to the upcoming outer condition will affect his state-of-mind and subsequent behavior. The “meaning” Elwell attributed to the transit was that it presented an opportunity to not get drawn into an argument. This meaning, in turn, informed his decision to remain calm in the face of confrontation. By deciding to remain cordial with his guests rather than fan the flames of disagreement, he was using astrology in a psychological manner.
 
In another example, Elwell cites how a car accident involving his guests might also be consistent with the meaning of his Mars square Mercury transit. He then asks, “but does psychology even begin to cover such eventualities?” My answer would be “yes,” for the relevant question then becomes how would Elwell make sense out of such an event? Would he blame himself for not doing a better job at calming his vociferous guest who subsequently drove off in a huff? With Mars-Mercury he might think, “that stupid fool deserves what he got for driving recklessly.” Or, he might think, “I must take action by communicating boldly to the authorities that better street signs might prevent future accidents.” In other words, how Dennis Elwell thinks about the news, as well as the action he takes, is psychologically determined.
 
Were I to have discussed beforehand such a transit with him, I would have predicted some possible events AND the psychological significance that could be attributed to them. For example, I might say:
 
With Mars squaring Mercury, a condition might arise involving intellectual combativeness. You might feel aggressive in conversation, or perhaps you will feel provoked by the aggressive conversational style of someone else. Either way, the challenge is to utilize the strength of Mars to bolster your ability to acquire and communicate information, and to utilize the intelligence of Mercury to keep your actions appropriately informed and rational. The nature of the event might reflect your ability to integrate Mars and Mercury. For example, if you tend to be aggressive in the way you communicate, then you may find yourself the victim of an attack. The incident, however, will present you with an opportunity to remain strong and not react defensively or harshly in response to a communication that is offensive. You might have to fight to assert the survival value of some particular piece of information. However, you may want to pick your fights wisely, and not get drawn into arguments that are counterproductive.
 
Now, suppose Dennis Elwell knew that the lighting and street signs on his particular street was conducive to auto accidents. With Mars squaring Mercury, this might be the time to fight (Mars) for better street signs (Mercury) so that future accidents could be averted. If he remembers my interpretation, he might put two-and-two together and take the requisite action on the following day. He might have to fight with the authorities to fix the problem, but this certainly would be a constructive, psychologically informed use of the transit.
 
Summary
If the core of the human being is identical to the ultimate reality of the Universe, then it seems that our greatest good lies in the realization of this fact. For if we trust our fate, and realize it is purposeful in a way that transcends the petty concerns that plague our everyday lives, then much unnecessary suffering can be avoided. I believe the goal of counseling should be to assist people in attaining an ever deeper trust in their own essential natures.
 
But if I predict futures with the intent of helping people to maximize pleasure/profit and minimize pain/loss, the implication is that they should trust me rather than themselves. Such work may run counter to the thrust of the Universe. It encourages people to look outside themselves for guidance, it subverts the process of growth that results from working through difficulties, and it reinforces the very process of fear that brings the client to the astrologer’s door.
 
I want to help people not only to know themselves but to trust in a process that is inexorably moving them toward greater realization of their fullest potentials. In the final analysis, to trust the Universe is to trust oneself; it is to have faith in an intelligent and purposive process that resides in the furthest reaches of the cosmos and in the deepest recesses of the human psyche. Joining the two into a one, that’s the work.

* * * * *

Notes:

1 AFAN is the Association For Astrological Networking.
2 Donald Regan, “For the Record,” Time, May 16, 1988, p. 26
3 Lance Morrow, “The Five-and-Dime Charms of Astrology,” Time, May 16, 1988, p. 100.

4 Jerry Carroll, “Some Deepak Thoughts,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 11, 1997, p. B6.
5 “The Desiderata of Happiness,” by Max Erhmann, copyright 1948 by Bertha K. Erhmann. Others say the Desiderata was found in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, dated 1692.
6 Personal communication via e-mail.

A Critical Review of Reincarnational Astrology

The following was abstracted from the complete article, “Silent Night: The Ethics of Reincarnational Astrology,” which is available in Issues and Ethics In The Profession of Astrology. _________________________________________

A Critical Review of 
Reincarnational Astrology

By Glenn Perry

 

It is the mark of of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. ~ Aristotle

 

Reincarnational astrology
One of the more intriguing aspects of natal astrology is the possibility that information about past lives might somehow be implicit in the birth chart. For those who believe in reincarnation, it seems a natural fit—hence, reincarnational astrology. The law of karma decrees that each person is born with certain traits and aptitudes that have accrued from previous lifetimes. Karma also holds that each person will experience a specific pattern of fated events that has been earned on the basis of past actions in past lives. Since the birthchart depicts inborn traits and fated events, one might justifiably conclude that the birthchart symbolizes karma. 
 
All of this is certainly possible. However, there are extended arguments that take this possibility to another level. Some astrologers presume that since the birthchart symbolizes one’s character and fate in this life, then it must symbolize one’s character and fate in a former life as well. Accordingly, interpretations are offered that entail the superimposition of a current life meaning onto a presumed past life, so that the same astrological configuration describes two separate realities: one’s current life and one’s past life. Other practitioners utilize a form of deductive reasoning to infer plausible precursor (prior life) experiences from current chart configurations. Hard aspects, for example, are interpreted as consequences of misuse or underdevelopment of those planetary functions in a past life. Still other theories presume that anything in the chart that signifies the past, such as the Moon or South Node, necessarily reflect behavior and experiences from a former incarnation.
 
Despite the complete lack of evidence for such claims, numerous astrological books and computer-generated reports are written from these points of view. Teachers, schools, and training programs are educating astrologers in potentially spurious techniques that allege that past life information can be discerned from the birthchart. While many astrologers admit the speculative nature of their past-life interpretations, others refuse to do so. Instead, they insist that their work is based on established techniques that empirically measure the prior-life dynamics in the birth chart. In the remainder of this article, we’ll examine the nature and ethical implications of such claims.
 
First, however, I would like to state at the outset that I believe in reincarnation and karma. Not only are such doctrines rooted in the rich spiritual traditions of the east, but compelling arguments for reincarnation have been made from investigations into apparent past life memories (Bache, 1994; Cerminera, 1950; Stevenson, 1974; Weiss, 1992). It seems entirely reasonable that the astrological chart reflects karmic patterns that have accrued from past lives—but exactly how? It is one thing to assert this philosophically, it is quite another to claim that one can know the past life logic that lies hidden within the mystery of the chart itself. In the absence of evidence to substantiate the validity of such claims, it could be argued that they not only trivialize the doctrine of reincarnation and karma, they also pose an ethical problem for the field.

 
The Ethical Issue

On the surface, it may seem that past life claims in astrology merely reflect the metaphysical convictions of the practitioner. Certainly, no one should be rebuked for his or her personal beliefs. Astrology, however, is more than a belief system; it is a service and a product that is sold. In virtually every ethical code that pertains to counseling, there are sections that prohibit practitioners from making false claims. For example, the ISAR Ethics Code, Section A.6.b., “Accurate Advertising,” states the following:

It is unethical for astrologers to make false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive claims that are designed to induce the rendering of professional services. A statement may be misleading or deceptive if it fails to disclose material facts or is intended or is likely to create false or unjustified expectations of favorable results.
 
Do past life claims create false or unjustified expectations of favorable results? If astrologers make definitive statements about past lives based on the chart, there is the implication that such information is clearly indicated. For example, Forrest (2000) alleges that he can construct a scenario based on the birthchart that symbolically parallels the soul’s prior-life experience. “We can know with great confidence that something like the story we are telling was in fact the experience of this soul in another lifetime” (p. 189). However, is such a statement justified if there is no way that Forrest can corroborate the claim with evidence from an actual past life? Is he deceiving the client into thinking that he knows something that he does not actually know? That he cannot know? If so, then he is creating an unjustified expectation of a favorable result—namely, that the recipient of the reading will gain legitimate information about a past life. The client may consider such information a favorable result and may even appear to benefit from it, but if the interpretation is not credible, is it ethical to advertise and sell such information?
 
One could argue that on this basis almost anything an astrologer says could be construed as unethical, since we cannot always provide concrete evidence to substantiate the statements that we make. However, there is a categorical difference between statements that an astrologer makes about a current life as opposed to a past life. All statements that pertain to a current life are falsifiable; that is, they relate to traits and experiences that can potentially be shown to be false. If an astrologer makes a statement about the client’s personality, such as “you tend to be impulsive and reckless,” the client can confirm or disconfirm the veracity of the interpretation. Such statements can also be confirmed or disconfirmed by external sources, such as friends or relatives or biographers who provide information about the character of the subject. In addition, astrologers make statements about events that the client may have experienced in childhood, or which s/he may experience some years in the future. Again, all such statements are capable of being confirmed or disconfirmed because they relate to past or future experiences in this life.
 
Grounding interpretive statements in evidential data is how any discipline builds up a reliable body of knowledge. Although much of what passes for valid knowledge in conventional astrology has not been the product of formal research, it does constitute a body of knowledge that has accumulated over the centuries through observation and correlation; that is, astrologers for millennia have been observing empirical phenomena and correlating these phenomena to astrological factors.
 
With claims about past lives, however, no such evidence is available to correlate to astrological factors. Certainly one can speculate about possible correlations, such as “South Node in Virgo means you were fussy and critical in a past life,” but speculation needs to be differentiated from interpretations that are grounded in actual, verifiable data. Statements like the above are not falsifiable; they are incapable of being disconfirmed since no one can go back to the client’s past lives to confirm if such a statement is valid. This insulates the past-life astrologer from any potential criticism of his knowledge claims.
 
In the counseling professions there is an ethical practice called “informed consent”, which means that before clients consent to receive (and pay for) a particular service, they should be reasonably informed as to the nature of that service. For example, The Association for Psychological Astrology (APA) Code D.3.b., “Nature of Services,” states:
 
When a consultation is initiated, astrologers inform clients of the purposes, goals, techniques, procedures, limitations, potential risks and benefits of services to be performed.
 
Note especially the word “limitations” with regard to services. It could be argued that a very real limitation of reincarnational astrology is that statements about past lives cannot be confirmed on the basis of actual, observable data. Clients cannot confirm or disconfirm interpretations of this sort since the vast majority of people do not remember past lives. Again, this limitation does not apply to statements about current lives, for even in the absence of substantiating evidence for a particular interpretation there is at least the possibility of acquiring it. With past life statements, this possibility is so remote as to be almost non-existent.
 
I say almost non-existent, for the possibility to acquire confirmatory data does exist in a certain fashion. Hypnotic-regression techniques of the sort used by psychotherapists Roger Woolger (1987) and Brian Weiss (1992) suggest that individuals are capable under hypnosis of recalling past lives. Such memories are fleeting and fragmentary, to be sure, but sometimes have a quality of real authenticity. Nevertheless, evidence of this sort is extremely dubious, for therapists and clients alike will admit that in most instances it is virtually impossible to differentiate actual memories from waking dreams. In response to the hypnotist’s suggestion that the client “remember” a past-life, the imagination kicks in and suddenly there are images and feelings that take on the quality of a previous incarnation. But is it memory or is it merely the client’s imagination complying with what has been suggested? It is difficult to say.
 
A potentially more fruitful area of research exists in the work of psychiatrist Ian Stevenson (1974), who has collected compelling accounts of children’s memories of past lives. Rigorous, scientific research to substantiate these memories, which includes interviews with family and friends from the prior life, has been undergoing for over thirty years. However, to my knowledge, there has been no attempt to correlate research data with the astrological charts of these unusual children. Until and unless that occurs, the question of how the birthchart reflects karma from previous incarnations must remain unanswered, at least in any definitive sense.
 
Even if such a study did occur, there is no assurance that it would clearly indicate an astrological connection between the current horoscope and the immediate prior life. We cannot presume that the Universe works in such a linear fashion. Not only may one incarnation be compensatory for another and thus indicated by radically different astrological factors, it is also likely that the horoscope reflects accrued karma from multiple past lives; thus, the immediate prior incarnation is not necessarily going to be reflected in a clear way in the birthchart.
 
In the absence of confirmatory evidence for past life interpretations, and in accord with the aforementioned ethical codes, astrologers should acknowledge to clients that such interpretations are speculative. Partly this is a question of good versus bad scholarship. But it’s more than that. When astrologers set themselves up in practice and implicitly or explicitly claim to be able to provide information of any sort about a client’s past life, they are accepting payment for services that have no basis in anything empirical. Given that the claim to know past lives is an extraordinary one (who wouldn’t want to know something about their past life?), it has the potential of generating extraordinary interest and substantial profit. Accordingly, it is easily abused.
 
Astrologers who claim they can tell clients about past lives are in the same position as gypsies who claim they can diagnose and lift curses that derive from unseen entities. In both cases there is (1) an extraordinary knowledge claim of perceived high importance; and (2) an implicit promise to help the client with problems that derive from an unknowable source. Unless there are limits placed on such claims, the potential for abuse is high indeed. Accordingly, there is a real need to require astrologers to admit that claims about past lives (or stories that allegedly parallel “real” past lives) are speculative.

 
Past Life Claims In Astrology

The linking of astrology to karma and reincarnation seems to have begun with the great English astrologer, Alan Leo (1860-1917), whose Esoteric Astrology was the first book to establish a connection between astrology and theosophy. According to Leo,

Esoteric astrology is primarily concerned with the abstract cause, the philosophy of the inner or more subtle point of view; whilst exoteric astrology is consistent with the effect, the practice, and the concrete or outer expression, preferring the more tangible and evident to the speculative and theoretical. (p. xiv)
Leo’s astrological foray into occult philosophy was soon taken up by the theosophist, Alice Bailey (1972), who referred to esoteric astrology as “the astrology of the soul.” Subsequent esoteric astrologers used the doctrine of karma to explain good and bad planetary aspects, the strength or weakness of planetary sign positions, and how the will of the individual can be brought into alignment with the divine will. In many ways, esoteric astrology was a progenitor of Rudhyar’s humanistic (psychological) astrology in that it focused on ways of using astrology to facilitate evolution toward an ideal state.
 
Although Alan Leo did proffer a karmic explanation for the overall structure of the birth-chart, it is noteworthy that he associated esoteric astrology with “the speculative and theoretical.” With regard to how the chart of a current incarnation might specifically relate to a previous incarnation, Leo was unequivocal: “Answers obviously cannot be given until horoscopes for successive incarnations have been accumulated and examined, and up to the present this has only been done in one or two cases, too few to justify generalization.” He did, however, speculate that as souls evolve from life to life they are likely to have markedly different horoscopes. Each new horoscope would be orchestrated for different experiences and lessons, such that the birthchart of one incarnation is not a reliable index for discerning information about previous incarnations.
 
Regrettably, Leo’s admirable restraint in such matters was not emulated by future generations of esoteric and humanistic astrologers, most of whom seem to reason that anything in the current horoscope must necessarily reflect traits and experiences from previous lives—this, despite the lack of evidence for such an assertion.
 
For example, Isabel Hickey’s (1968) classic text, Astrology: A Cosmic Science, is replete with grim indictments such as: “Hasn’t been a loving person in past lifetimes, and is often denied the love that he seeks in this lifetime” (for Saturn in Leo, p. 177). People with Venus in Scorpio, “can be cruel or suffer from cruelty because of karma tied to the misuse of the love principle” (p.160). Further travails accrue to Venus square Saturn, which is an aspect that is, “karmic in origin on the debt side of spiritual ledger. Disappointments through love due to selfishness….This causes loneliness and limitation as life advances” (p. 223). And for Mars square Neptune the native is admonished: “Misuse of psychic and spiritual forces in a past life need redeeming in this one” (p. 229).
 
Since Pluto is associated with death and rebirth, we should not be surprised that it’s of particular interest to reincarnational astrologers. Jeffrey Green (1994) is noteworthy in this regard, for he actually provides statistics to support his pronouncements: “About eighty percent of Fourth House Pluto individuals have a series of prior-life experiences in which their emotional needs have not been successfully met by one or both of their parents” (p. 85).
 
Other astrologers are enamored with the South Node as a prime indicator of karma from past lives. This practice seems to have originated with Martin Schulman’s (1975) Karmic Astrology. Schulman claims that the South Node is symbolic of the native’s past, which includes the very distant past—as in a past life. Accordingly, specific statements are made about previous incarnations. For example, “Nearly all [individuals with South Node in Scorpio] have at one time touched the force of Witchcraft….He has been deeply scarred with the pain of being hurt, and now like a wounded animal can be deadly to anyone who represents the slightest threat” (p. 30-31).
 
Taking up the banner of the South Node as the sine qua non of reincarnational astrology, contemporary astrologers such as Jan Spiller, Jeff Green, and Steven Forest have followed in Schulman’s footsteps with new, ever more spectacular claims. Spiller (1997) relies on the South Node not only to describe one’s personality in previous incarnations, but also to reveal specific vocations and pastimes.
 
For example, Libran South Noders were “housewives, secretaries, counselors, and assistants” (p. 22), whereas Piscean South Noders “have a history of many lifetimes spent in dissolution of the ego—either through meditation and spiritual quests; drug and alcohol abuse; [or] confinement and time to reflect in convents, prisons, or asylums” (p. 237). Spiller says the South Node is responsible for deeply ingrained, habitual behaviors that invariably cause suffering. In fact, following these tendencies “will cause you to lose—every time!” (p. 13). The good news is that the North Node is the antidote to the excesses of the South, and represents the key to resolving past life karma. She reports:
Once you access the underlying formula for uniting and balancing your inner self, it’s like a particle of magic. It will work 100% of the time in every situation of your life. (p. 6)
Not to be outdone by Spiller’s statistics, Jeff Green (2000) warns ominously that anyone born with Uranus conjunct the South Node has 100% likelihood of a past-life trauma being repeated in the current life (p. 36).
 
In support of Green’s claim that past-life traumas are revealed by the South Node, Steven Forrest (2000) asserts: “In looking at the symbolism of the karmic structures in the birthchart, we can get some exceedingly precise and useful insights into the nature of the past-life story” (p. 170). The sign of the South Node, he says, “gives one direct insight into the psychological attitudes and drives in the karmic patterning,” and its house position “gives us insight directly into the behavioral expression and circumstances of the soul in that lifetime” (p. 189). Forrest goes on to describe how the “disorder” of the South Node can be framed in a past-life story that metaphorically captures the essence of the problem. After interpreting a particular nodal position, he claims:
Everything we are saying could have been the literal, factual truth. Furthermore, we can know with great confidence that something like the story we are telling was in fact the experience of this soul in another lifetime. (p. 189)
However, in the absence of any substantiating evidence that such stories do, in fact, depict or parallel actual past lives, one wonders how Forrest can have “great confidence” in the stories he constructs.
 
Even more disturbing is the flood of past life astrological reports currently available for purchase. These computer-generated reports are available not only to consumers, but the software can be purchased so that astrologers can sell them firsthand to clients. A cursory review of these reports reveals that most have their own unique theory with regard to how the chart reveals past lives. For example, the Past Lives Report from Matrix Software alleges that its author, Bernie Ashman, “has discovered a technique for creating a past life chart that shows life as a continual evolution.” It’s claimed that Ashman’s “research” has led to techniques that allow him to glimpse patterns and tendencies “from an earlier life” and relate them to the person’s current natal chart.
 
It turns out that Ashman’s “research” merely entails taking the sign on the cusp of the 12th house and making it the “past lives ascendant,” which is “the way our soul expressed itself in previous incarnations,” he says (p. 29). Also, houses in the Past Life birthchart are counted clockwise rather than the conventional way of counterclockwise. Since the 12th house becomes the Ascendant, the sign on the cusp of the 11th house now begins the 2nd house, and so on, around the chart wheel. The planets remain in the same sign placements, but now occupy different houses. All sign positions are interpreted from a past lives perspective, such that every planetary sign position now describes how you were rather than how you are.
 
As an added bonus, Ashman not only interprets the South Node as a past life, he throws in the North Node, too. Trumping his South Node fixated colleagues, Ashman declares that the North Node is “no less connected to past life tendencies than its counterpart the South Node.” According to the Matrix Catalogue description,
The past lives chart reveals the collective energy accumulated over many lifetimes. It is now possible to see the gathering of these tendencies over lifetimes. Viewing the present natal chart through a past life chart perspective is an enormously powerful tool. It becomes clear that each of us is dynamic point of light and energy that is honed and refined lifetime after lifetime. (p. 29)
One might wonder: how does Ashman know the chart as constructed has anything whatsoever to do with a past life? How, in fact, does any astrologer who interprets a chart in terms of a past life know that their interpretations are valid and true? Notwithstanding its Byzantine logic, Ashman’s method is spurious. We’re not talking about a theory grounded in evidence or facts, but something completely made-up.
 
Ashman’s method for discerning knowledge of past-lives is not unique if by “method” we actually mean an arbitrary set of untested assumptions. The fact that authors of other past life reports utilize entirely different strategies for manufacturing past-life information merely underscores that their interpretations are based on random suppositions. I do not think it’s too far out to say that these reports have as much credibility as a note from the tooth fairy.

 
Analyzing The Theory

How do astrologers derive information about past lives from birthcharts? Once the premise of reincarnation is accepted, one simply looks at a configuration and imagines how its standard astrological meaning might relate to a former existence. In other words, imagination substitutes for evidence. Armed with a past-life presupposition, it is not difficult to provide past-life interpretations. The formula is straightforward:

  1. Interpret an astrological configuration.
  2. Convert this meaning into a past-life meaning.
  3. Voila! Instant karmic insight into a past life.

Essentially, Judy Hall (2000) advocates this approach for readers who might feel cheated because their particular past-lives aspect was not covered in her book. “Apply your own astrological knowledge,” she says, “and speculate on possibilities” (p. 49). I think this sentence speaks for itself. In short, the vast majority of past-life interpretations simply entail taking a natal configuration and then speculating on how it might describe a behavioral pattern from a past life.

 
There is a hidden irony in this practice, however. Past life interpretations derive from observations of real people in real time who actually have these configurations. To give a simple example, a simple albeit standard natal interpretation of Pluto in the 9th is that it correlates to deep, passionate convictions about matters pertaining to religion, philosophy, and the like. Such an interpretation is not only consistent with the meaning of Pluto and the 9th house; it is also based on observations of individuals who have this natal placement. Past-life interpretations merely involve the superimposition of a current life meaning onto a presumed past life. Thus, the same configuration is claimed to have two identical meanings: (1) it describes behavior in this life, and (2) it describes behavior in a former life.
 
If the latter premise is true, e.g., Pluto in the 9th means one not only has but also had passionate philosophical convictions, then this would imply that individuals are born with the same configuration life after life since the past-life interpretation merely duplicates the current life meaning. Moreover, if this holds for all planetary positions in the chart, it suggests one would be born with the same horoscope life after life. But such a position is counter-intuitive if one actually believes in evolution, for it would be redundant for a soul to have the same chart in a past life that they have in this one. Where is the evolution in that?
 
Accordingly, when astrologers interpret natal configurations as if they are descriptive of past-life tendencies, while also interpreting the same configuration in terms of present-life tendencies, they are actually endorsing a non-evolutionary point of view. It’s like saying the ape evolved from the ape. Such an interpretive stance is vacuous and self-contradictory. It is ironic that the major school touting this kind of thinking calls itself “Evolutionary Astrology.”
 
It is certainly plausible that the natal chart is in some way the effect of prior actions in prior lives, but there is no reason to assume that the cause of those effects is going to have the same astrological signature as the effects themselves. Yet, this is what Evolutionary Astrology requires us to believe.
 
If a person is born with Mars conjunct the South Node and square Pluto, and this person has an established propensity for violent outbursts, can we justifiably presume that in a past life this same aspect was in evidence and that it described the same propensity as exists in the current life? According to Forrest (2005), this is how one should interpret such a configuration. Yet, the presumption that the same configuration describes both current life patterns and prior life patterns is just that: an unfounded presumption. There is no actual evidence to support the theory much less the practice.
 
The claim that the chart reflects karma or “the soul’s intentions in this life” simply expresses the metaphysical convictions of the astrologer. I have no problem with this; in fact, it is a position I hold myself. However, such a position does not ensure privileged access to the mysteries of previous incarnations. To make this second and more radical claim, one must combine interpretive skill with unfettered imagination, but this is hardly a valid methodology for discerning past life information.
 
In effect, there is a weak and strong version of reincarnational astrology.
Weak Version: Make a statement about the client’s current behavior or life experience and frame it as meaningfully related to the soul’s karma or intention for this life. Such an interpretation does not speculate on actual past-life circumstances or actions, but merely presumes that the present is meaningfully connected to the past.
Strong Version: Make a statement that refers directly to an attitude, action, or experience in a past life. While the degree of specificity may vary, what distinguishes this type of interpretation from the former is that the astrologer is actually saying something about a past life, and then connecting that statement to a current concern.
In subsequent sections, we will examine why this second, stronger type of statement is both unethical and indefensible unless the astrologer acknowledges that it is speculative. There is nothing inherently wrong with reincarnational astrology. In fact, I could easily make arguments in favor of it. If there is a problem, it is not with reincarnational astrology per se; it is with dogmatic proclamations of its veracity in the absence of substantiating evidence. Accordingly, the reader should keep in mind that any criticism of reincarnational astrology is directed only at practitioners who refuse to acknowledge the speculative nature of their interpretations.

 
Rules of Evidence

The primary advantage of scientific inquiry lies with its efficiency. Hypotheses can be tested, retained, or discarded according to their merit. Knowledge thus accumulates that is relatively free from erroneous assumptions. Research is a kind of corrective procedure, an intellectual screening process that eliminates fallacies, deceptions, and general errors of thinking so that they do not tangle up our accumulating body of knowledge and lead us astray.

Research further assures the growth of knowledge by preventing it from becoming bogged down through allegiance to past authorities. History has demonstrated that many wise, honorable, and intelligent people have simply been wrong in their beliefs. By subjecting beliefs to verification through an appropriate research method, such beliefs can either be confirmed or refuted. The purpose of research is not to prove the ultimate truth or falseness of a given doctrine, but to affect our degree of belief. Such a critical and discriminating approach to knowledge assures that our “truths” will continue to evolve.
 
Science begins with the perception of a question accompanied by a belief in the possibility of an answer. Once a question is asked, there are three essential steps in scientific research: (1) investigation of pertinent facts, (2) creation of a theory or hypothesis to explain observed regularities in the data, and (3) testing of the hypothesis via the appropriate method. For example, an astrologer may pose the question, what kind of experiences correlate to transiting Pluto conjunct the natal Sun? To answer this question, the astrologer can: (1) investigate the actual experiences of a group of individuals who have had this transit; (2) formulate a hypothesis based on the quality of experience reported; and (3) test the hypothesis by doing structured interviews with twenty subjects who have undergone the transit to see if their actual experience confirms or refutes the hypothesis.
 
With regard to the first step—investigation of pertinent facts—the researcher gathers factual data in preparation for the formation of a hypothesis, which is still tentative at this stage. Factual data is organized into a series of observation statements that constitute “evidence” in support of the preliminary hypothesis. In the aforementioned study, evidential data can be observations of objective events that appear to correlate to transiting Pluto conjunct the Sun. For example, the transit may correlate to a subject’s encounter with death in some fashion. A client of mine reported that his wife was diagnosed with leukemia during the period that he was undergoing the transit. For the duration of the transit, which lasted a year due to retrograde movement, he ran a support group for individuals who had all been diagnosed with terminal illnesses.
 
Evidential data relevant to the transit can also be found in deeply personal, subjective experiences. A person might say, “I had to face parts of myself that I didn’t know were there. I felt like I was dying inside, as if the old me was being destroyed and a new me was being born.” Note that this type of data is grounded in directly apprehended experience, even though it is not empirically observable from an outside vantage point. Such experiences are intrinsically intersubjective, i.e., capable of being shared by many different people. The form, structure, and meaning of the phenomenon—transiting Pluto on the Sun—can be bracketed out from extraneous subjective experiences. It can then be shared and confirmed (or re-buffed) via interpersonal communication. Accordingly, any interpretation of transiting Pluto on the Sun can be tested by striking it against a community of people who have actually undergone the transit.
 
Once an appropriate amount of preliminary research has been done, the researcher may formulate a research hypothesis, such as:
Transiting Pluto conjunct the Sun correlates to a) encounters with death, b) experiences involving healing, regeneration, or rebirth, and c) identity crises and transformations—deeply emotional experiences that entail having to face previously unknown or unacceptable parts of the self.
The third step in research—testing—provides a way to reject hypotheses that are potentially erroneous. By interviewing an appropriate number of test subjects who have all experienced the same transit, the hypothesis in question is capable of being confirmed or disconfirmed. The hypothesis is confirmed if it meshes with the structure of meaning experienced by a community of interpreters, i.e., if there is an intersubjective consensus among test subjects.
 
To be recognized as sound, a research hypothesis must not only account for the data, it must do so in a fashion that is capable of withstanding the fire of intersubjective discourse. For example, the meaning of transiting Pluto on the Sun must not only account for observed regularities among the subjects (similar objective and subjective experiences), it must do so in a way that convinces the community that such regularities cannot be better explained through an alternative hypothesis. In short, acceptance of a theory rests on how well it weathers criticism and whether it has better stood up to testing than its competitors.
 
Of course, there are very few astrological interpretations—structures of meaning—that have been formally tested in this way. Most interpretations of natal configurations, transits, and progressions are based on a systematic yet informal correlation of astrological variables with observed events. However, as stated previously, the important thing is whether such interpretations can be formally tested. In effect, every astrological interpretation constitutes a potential research hypothesis so long as there is evidence against which the hypothesis can be tested.

 
The Criterion of Falsifiability

As we have seen, testing provides a potential disproof mechanism and the means by which erroneous hypotheses can be rejected. In his renowned Logic of Scientific Discovery, Karl Popper (1959) stated that the essential difference between prejudice and theory is that prejudices tend not to be affected by contrary evidence, whereas theoretical concepts remain open to disproof. Popper makes this distinction the prime criterion for distinguishing science from mere speculation. The capacity for disproof is the sine qua non of science: “A system [is] empirical or scientific only if it is capable of being tested by experience” (p. 40).

Popper’s criterion of falsifiability is the requirement that propositions be made in such a form that they are capable of disproof. To be scientific, a statement must be made in such a way that it can conceivably be disproved. According to Popper, if there is no way to disprove a theory, then there is no way to prove it either. Propositions that do not permit such testing fall into the category of speculation rather than of potentially verifiable scientific statements.
 
It is difficult to deny that Popper’s “supreme rule” of falsifiability provides a sensible way to discriminate between valid theories and mere speculation. Falsifiability, the capacity for disproof, requires that a theory be subject to testing and that its proponents be willing to admit legitimate disproof.
 
It cannot be overstated that evidence is the life-blood of any theory. Evidence for or against an astrological hypothesis can come in a variety of forms: observation of behavior, interviews with family and friends, biographies, newspaper reports, magazine articles, employment history, work records, medical records, and artifacts such as writings (letters, articles, books) or works of art. In short, anything a subject has ever said or done that is capable of being recorded may constitute evidence in support of a hypothesis. The more evidence there is for a hypothesis, the greater its degree of confirmation.
 
As we have seen, most astrological hypotheses can be tested by a variety of methods, ranging from quantitative (experimental) methods that utilize statistics, to qualitative methodologies such as phenomenology, hermeneutics, and the case study method. Generally speaking, the human sciences—psychology and astrology—are best investigated via qualitative methods. The right qualitative method is whatever is best suited to the questions and subject matter addressed.
 
As stated, any particular astrological statement constitutes a potential research hypothesis so long as there is evidence against which the hypothesis can be tested. In the absence of evidence that could potentially disprove the hypothesis, it must be relegated to the category of mere speculation—a trivial statement of little significance or value.

 
Testing Reincarnational Astrology

With regard to reincarnational astrology, the proposition for testing would be: Past-life information can be ascertained from astrological charts. In order to test this proposition, a more specific question would have to be derived and investigated. For example, does the South Node of the Moon provide information about a subject’s past lives? The first step in investigating this question would be to gather preliminary evidence from a past life that is pertinent to the meaning of a particular nodal position. Almost immediately, however, the researcher faces a daunting problem. How can one access evidential data from a subject’s past lives if, in fact, there is no evidence?

Evolutionary astrologers might answer that they are not attempting to provide specific, concrete information about past lives, such as who the person was, their appearance, career, illnesses, or any other specific data; rather, they are attempting to construct a parable/story that metaphorically depicts the “dynamics” of the past life existence. By “dynamics” is meant the emotional, mental, and behavioral patterns from that life. Despite this caveat, however, Evolutionary Astrology is not exempt from the need for evidence. In distinguishing concrete details from psychological dynamics, the researcher still faces the same problem. To confirm whether the dynamics of past lives is accurately seen and read in the horo-scope, one would need access to actual prior personalities, subject them to some kind of assessment to determine their thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and then compare these to what has been predicted from the chart. But how can one do this if one cannot actually observe a prior life personality?
 
There are several possibilities. The first is to utilize the technique of past-life hypnotic regression. The goal would be to see if evidence can be ascertained from a past life memory that pertains specifically to the research hypothesis. Let’s say, for example, that the subject has South Node in Capricorn in the 6th house. With regard to this placement, Forrest (2000) claims there is “a dark karmic pattern of controlling others through service….keeping others weak, keeping others dependent, through rendering ourselves indispensable” (p. 192). This pattern stems from a past life, says Forrest, because the bottom-line meaning of the South Node is that it represents a deeply ingrained habit on a soul level that is now carrying over into the current life.
 
In order to test this claim via regression hypnosis, the researcher would need to direct the client to remember a past life and then see what sort of information spontaneously emerges. However, this procedure is unlikely to provide confirmatory data. On the contrary, there is likely to be a plethora of evidence that runs counter to the alleged meaning of South Node in Capricorn in the 6th. According to the literature on past lives therapy, multiple sessions with the same client tend to produce wildly varying stories involving completely different personalities and circumstances (Woolger, 1987; Weiss, 1992). Whatever might be true of the personality in one incarnation is likely to be contradicted by the personality of another incarnation. Roger Woolger, a Jungian analyst and arguably the world’s foremost authority on regression therapy, writes:
Once we begin to explore a whole series of past lives a very prominent feature stands out: there is a constant process of reversal from one kind of personality to its opposite. There is also a reversal of moral perspective and major themes in the various stories we encounter. So we meet cycles of lives that swing in personality type from concubine to celibate, spendthrift to miser, lord to serf, stay-at-home to adventurer, and so on….Themes and settings, too, undergo momentous reversals, from a Roman proconsul ruling all of Spain to a landless Dutch peasant; from an ostracized slave to a Chinese warlord; from a sexually abused child to a battlefield rapist and mutilator. (p. 218)
Recall that Forrest (2000) declared that the South Node is the summary product of one’s karma deriving from all previous lives, and that it signifies the emotional memories of the soul (p. 196). Since the South Node in Capricorn in the 6th has a somewhat precise and limited astrological meaning, this suggests that the soul would have a discernable and repetitive pattern in its evolutionary history, e.g., a tendency toward being a driven workaholic. However, if one accepts Woolger’s observation that the soul undergoes a continual process of reversal in personality types, themes, and settings, then this would make it virtually impossible for the South Node to reflect a particular type of past-life personality or life circumstance. Reincarnational research suggests that there is no one particular type of personality or life for the soul; rather, our evolutionary trajectory unfolds in accordance with the Jungian principle of enantiodromia—conversion of one personality into its opposite, and back again, so that over a multiplicity of lives and selves we move toward wholeness (Bache; 1994; Cerminera; 1950). Accordingly, past lives therapy is unlikely to provide confirmation that the South Node represents a specific personality style or lifestyle from previous incarnations.
 
It is possible that the South Node sign and house symbolizes something specific about the most immediate prior-life. This is what Forrest (2000) implies when he says that the sign of the South Node signifies the “psychological attitudes and drives in the karmic patterning,” while the house position shows “the circumstances of the soul in that lifetime” (p. 189). Since he says “in that lifetime,” it’s clear he’s not talking about the South Node as the summary product of all previous lives, but as signifying the karmic pattern of a specific past life, e.g., he asserts that the South Node in Capricorn in the 6th means that in a previous incarnation the individual controlled others through serving them (p. 192).
 
Even assuming that this South Node position symbolizes karma from the immediate past life, there are still serious methodological problems in finding evidence to confirm this supposition. The past life researcher must (1) isolate the immediate prior incarnation from all previous lives, and (2) discern evidence that confirms or disconfirms the meaning of South Node in Capricorn in the 6th. As someone who has experienced past-life regression therapy and who has also utilized this technique with clients, I can attest that this would be extraordinarily difficult for the following reasons.
 
First, when a subject is under hypnosis, past lives present themselves in a fleeting, fragmentary, and dreamy manner that does not allow for a clear, incisive analysis of a past-life personality. Biographical data of this sort does not generally emerge in a linear, sequential fashion, but tends to be limited to experiences of high emotional significance. It’s more like seeing a preview of a movie than the movie itself. Just as a preview is limited to emotionally charged highlights presented in a jumbled, non-linear way, so past life sessions unfold in a similar manner.
 
Second, the South Node symbolizes but one facet of the current life and is subsumed by the chart as a whole—myriad planetary sign and house positions, aspects, major configurations, dispositorships, and the like. Since this is the case in this life, it would follow that it’s also the case in any previous life. Given the tremendous complexity of the astrological chart, which operates on the synergistic principle of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, I would think it unlikely that behavior pertaining to a single, limited configuration like the South Node would spontaneously leap out at the researcher in an unambiguous manner during a past life session.
 
Third, in order to be taken seriously, past life regression sessions cannot involve the type of questioning that would be necessary to ferret out information pertinent to a research hypothesis. The hypnotherapist must necessarily allow unconscious material to unfold organically, without direction, suggestion, or leading questions, and in accord with whatever is of immediate personal concern to the client. It would be fine for the researcher to ask questions that pertain to what emerges naturally, but to lead the subject into areas that are potentially relevant to a research hypothesis would so contaminate the session that any information so derived would be imme-diately suspect. In response to such questioning, the unconscious would unavoidably be influenced to produce data that may appear to conform to the research hypothesis.
 
Such data would be all the more suspect if the meaning of the South Node was first interpreted and then the subject was asked to go into a past life to confirm or disconfirm the interpretation. Imagine the astrologer saying:
Your South Node position means you might have controlled others through service in a past life. Now, I want you to remember a past life. What’s happening?
Under such circumstances, it would be impossible to rule out the possibility that the subject merely manufactured the data in compliance with what had been suggested.
 
Finally, there is the previously mentioned concern that the veracity of past life data is itself difficult to confirm. In some cases, it appears that regression sessions reveal information that pertains to an authentic past life; however, in many other sessions it appears that the subject’s unconscious is manufacturing a “waking dream” that metaphorically depicts a particular issue, conflict, or concern relevant to the current life, just as dreams do. The very act of instructing the client to remember a past life, combined with the subject’s intention to remember, produces a collusion between hypnotist and client that renders the resulting “memories” suspect. Rather than actually remembering a past life, the subject may merely be hypnotized into believing that s/he is remembering a past life.
 
In summary, so far as hypnotic regression is concerned, there are at least five problems this technique presents for a researcher who is testing the hypothesis that some part of a birth chart reflects a karmic pattern from an immediate prior life:
 
  1. Information is presented in a jumbled, fleeting, and fragmentary manner that does not allow for a clear, incisive analysis of a personality type.
  2. Because the South Node is but one facet of a complex, multidimensional picture (birthchart as a whole), it is not likely to spontaneously present itself in a precise, unambiguous manner.
  3. Past life regression sessions cannot entail leading questions designed to disclose information pertinent to a research hypothesis.
  4. Interpretations of the South Node cannot precede the actual regression session without contaminating the resulting data.
  5. It is difficult to differentiate actual past life data from fabrications that derive from the suggestion that the subject is remembering a past life.

All of this makes it extremely unlikely that information derived from regression hypnosis would produce valid, confirmatory data for a past-life astrological hypothesis. This does not mean one should not try, of course, but whatever conclusions might be drawn from such research need to be tempered with full awareness of the tentative, questionable veracity of the data. In fact, several astrologers have written about their experiences using hypnotic regression as a methodological tool with this caveat in mind. Nancy Kahn states that she’s been an astrologer and past-life regressionist for 25 years.

I always ran a natal chart for every client that I regressed. I can say with certainty that you cannot know a person’s past lifetimes by looking at the birth chart….I believe that the time has come to cease predicting past lifetimes by looking at the birth chart!
Another astrologer and past-life regressionist, Barbara May, writes:
Anything dealing with past lives as far as a natal chart is concerned HAS to be speculative. I speak from authority here, as I doubt anyone in the Western world has the database I have gathered since starting to work with Richard Sutphen in July 1976. One must remain a skeptic when dealing with this sort of information. I’ve made it clear that anything I say about past lives based on a natal chart is speculative and not to be taken as anything else. People don’t realize how flimsy information coming from a state of altered consciousness truly can be.
A second technique for gathering evidence in support of a past-life astrological hypothesis would be the use of trained clairvoyants in collaboration with astrologers and researchers. Evidence derived in this way could potentially confirm a particular hypothesis involving, for example, the South Node in Capricorn in the 6th. To substantiate Forrest’s (2000) interpretation of this position, the psychic would have to discern if the individual in an immediate prior life actually did control other people through serving them. For evidence of this sort to be permissible, however, the psychic could not know beforehand the nature of the hypothesis under investigation, since foreknowledge would contaminate the results.
 
It follows that any alleged psychic confirmation of a past-life interpretation by an astrologer would be highly suspect, since it would be difficult if not impossible for the astrologer to differentiate presuppositions based on the chart from what he or she was picking up psychically. Any astrologer can look at a client’s chart, close his eyes, and allow images to form that presumably relate to the client’s past life. However, the mere fact that the astrologer already has a chart-based interpretation in mind will unavoidably seed his unconscious with certain expectations. If Jeff Green, for example, knows from observable data that Pluto in the 4th can correlate to trauma in one’s family of origin, how can he prevent this information from contaminating his allegedly psychic insights into what this configuration might mean for a client’s past life? For this reason, any psychically derived claim made by the astrologer would have to be rendered inadmissible for purposes of research.
 
It goes without saying that psychically derived information about any event is highly questionable. Research has shown that even well known, credible psychics are more often wrong than right (Hansel, 1980; Rhine, 1957; Wiseman, 1997). To be useful for purposes of astrological research into past lives, the psychic would have to: (1) tune in to the most immediate past life, (2) obtain reliable data pertinent to a research hypothesis involving a predicted characterological disposition and fated circumstance, and (3) achieve this with no foreknowledge of the hypothesis in question. Given the massive difficulty of such a feat, one would have to expect that this technique is unlikely to produce confirmatory data for a past-life astrological hypothesis.

 
Self-Sealing Doctrines

It is characteristic of certain arguments that no evidence can possibly refute them. The previous section outlined two methods for acquiring evidence that could potentially confirm (or disconfirm) hypotheses that involve reincarnational astrology—namely, evidence from hypnotic regression and clairvoyance. However, the problems involved in acquiring valid and permissible evidence with these techniques are so substantial as to render them nearly useless.

Since there may be no way to prove a past-life astrological hypothesis, there would be no way to disprove it either. Positions that are set up in this way are called self-sealing doctrines.
A self-sealing doctrine is a belief system immunized against contrary evidence. In other words, it is not falsifiable. Fogelin (1987) asserts: A self-sealing position is one that is so constructed that no criticism can possibly be brought against it. This shows its vacuity, and it is precisely for this reason that we reject it. (p. 113)
There are a variety of ways that a doctrine can be immunized against contrary evidence. Arguments for reincarnational astrology provide excellent examples of self-sealing mechanisms. Of these we will examine four:

  1. Making ad hominem arguments by which a questioner’s integrity or competence is impugned.
  2. Resolving the discrepancy between fact and belief by introducing a higher order of explanation into the belief system.
  3. Drawing dogmatic conclusions from ambiguous data, i.e., evidence that calls for considerable interpretation is distorted so as to confirm expectations.
  4. Employment of idiosyncratic terminology in which conventional meanings of words are changed or distorted.

Making Ad Hominem Arguments: An argument ad hominem literally means an argument against the arguer rather than against his argument or against the conclusion of his argument. For example, when asked how he responds to people who point out the lack of empirical evidence for past life data in the horoscope, Jeff Green retorts: “You’re just talking about people with limited intellects, and because of their insecurity, they need to defend the limitations of that intellect.” Note how this response impugns the critic’s integrity and competence. One might suspect Green’s contempt for scientific reasoning is merely a rationalization that exempts him from having to substantiate what he claims to know.

 
Another type of ad hominem argument is to accuse the critic of misrepresenting the facts or of not having the right method for discerning the theory’s validity. For example, in response to an article that cited the lack of evidence to substantiate past-life claims in astrology, Steven Forrest writes:
His remarks reflect, I think, his inexperience with these techniques. Over and over again, my experience with clients has reflected that, in working with the nodes of the Moon, we are not “making this stuff up,” as he alleges.
Forrest is arguing that the critic’s failure to discern the truth of Evolutionary Astrology is due not to lack of evidence, but to lack of experience with the right techniques. This defense is subtler than accusing the critic of limited intellectual prowess. The implication is that anyone can prove to himself that the techniques work; one merely needs to apply them. However, this argument is specious since the techniques of Evolutionary Astrology do not in themselves produce any actual evidence to confirm the theory—a point we will return to soon.
 
 
Introducing A Higher Order Of Explanation:
A second mechanism of self-sealing doctrines is to resolve discrepancies between facts and beliefs by introducing a higher order of explanation into the belief system. Many astrologers get defensive when confronted with their lack of scientific reasoning. Words like “science,” “research,” and “evidence” are reacted to as if they were curses leveled at them by an evil coterie of non-believers. A favored tactic for defusing criticism is to introduce a higher order of explanation into the theory—one that is immune from the usual requirements for evidence.
For example, Green (2000) protests that requirements for evidence and research is symptomatic of a vast patriarchal conspiracy that has poisoned western culture and undermined our allegiance to “natural law” for the past 8000 years. People who learn in a patriarchal way tend to rely too much on external authority—science—rather than their own experience. Alternatively, Green claims that his knowledge is “entirely within” and takes place through what he calls direct perception—mystical communion with the object of his knowing. He says that he learned this from the Navajo Indians. “Thank God I was initiated into their religion called peyote. Direct perception” (p. 13-14).
 
Certainly this way of knowing has a long and rich history and should not be dismissed out of hand. Some people view direct experience as irrefutable, a naiveté that exasperates Popper (1959, p. 52). We should be aware that this mode of perception does have a rather spotty record. Two teachers of recent memory, Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite, both claimed to have direct perception into transcendent mysteries, and both rallied their followers to commit mass suicide resulting in over a thousand dead “true believers”. The annals of psychiatry and criminology include innumerable lesser-known cases of self-deluded individuals who believed they possessed special insight into divine mysteries.
 
Green (2000) exhorts his followers to not rely on external authority for astrological truths. Yet, ironically Green is asking the astrological community to trust him as an external authority, since the type of knowledge he is professing is not confirmable by anyone else’s experience. Green would have us believe that he possesses magical powers to see into the souls of human beings, penetrate the secrets of the Universe, pierce the veil of the unknown, and disclose the karmic debts and past life entanglements that underlay our choice of mates, careers, and virtually everything that makes up one’s life. As to how he arrived at his startling conclusions, his methodology is consistent with his insights: he dreamed it.
I want to share something about myself: I’ve read only about ten books in astrology. It’s true. And the way I was taught astrology is through dreams. Dreams….This is exactly how all the Pluto material manifested. (2000, p. 4).
According to Green (1993), “seventy-five to eighty percent” of our behavior is directly conditioned by the evolutionary/karmic past, as symbolized by Pluto (p. 8). I can only surmise that citing exact percentages helps to reinforce an illusion of authoritative, precise knowledge. Since his knowledge claims are not testable and thus not falsifiable, they must be accepted on faith. In effect, what he is saying is, “If I imagine or dream it; it must be so!”
 
Note, however, that this introduces a higher order of explanation into the theory. So called “direct perception” trumps the need for communal or consensual proof of true seeing. Since few if any astrologers are capable of the stupendous leaps of knowing that enable Green to peer into the souls of human beings and perceive their evolutionary/karmic past, he is exempt from having to substantiate his claims with evidence. Lack of evidence is not a fault of the theory; it is the regrettable but unavoidable consequence of others not being able to duplicate Green’s powers of perception.
 
Forrest (2000) defends Green’s claims by declaring that astrology, “needs its mystics, needs its visionaries” (p. 12). He’s shocked that Green’s statements trouble some astrologers, and he argues that Green is not like Jim Jones because “anybody who looks at his work can check it out…and see that it does work” (p. 13). In other words, Forrest implies that Green is not a crank because his claims can be tested. The point, however, is that his claims cannot be tested, and that’s the problem with not admitting their speculative nature.
 
For example, in an interview with The Mountain Astrologer, Green contends that an applying square from Venus to Pluto signifies that the soul is just beginning an evolutionary journey with regard to this planetary duo. He alleges that this aspect…
will set in motion a series of lifetimes in which the soul will experience intense abandonment, have loss and betrayal issues through the misapplication of trust vis-à-vis others, and/or set in motion a series of lives in which they use others relative to their own needs.
By any standard, this is a rather ominous prediction. Whatever difficulties the client might suffer in this life are dwarfed by the prospect of intense abandonment that will extend over an entire series of lifetimes. Yet, upon hearing this, Forrest exclaims how he gets “all excited” when he hears Jeff speak and that he’ll “see if it works”. One can only wonder how Forrest will test Green’s dire predictions about his client’s future lifetimes. Since it’s unlikely that Forrest or anyone could set up a study to test Green’s prediction, it is immunized against any possibility of disproof; thus, it’s a self-sealing doctrine.
 
In other places, Forrest (2000) introduces his own version of a higher order of explanation. Forrest constructs stories about his client’s past lives based on the South Node’s sign, house and aspects. These stories allegedly capture the metaphorical truth of the person’s past life. The good news is that the story doesn’t have to be true to be true.
The point is that truth is different than mere facts, higher than facts. And, through the symbolism of the Moon’s Nodes, we can tell a story that parallels the actual karmic tale of the individual. It parallels it, like a parable. It tells everything you need to know, except we might have your gender wrong or the century wrong or the continent wrong….From the soul’s point of view, that stuff doesn’t matter so much anyway. (p. 171)
If the truths of Forrest’s past-life stories are not contingent upon facts—in fact, they are “higher” than facts—then there are no facts that can refute them. Accordingly, the claim is not falsifiable. There is no way to disconfirm his theory either with facts or the absence of them. “We are trying to write a novel that conveys the truth, if not the facts,” claims Forrest. “We are directly accessing the emotional memories of this soul” (p. 195). Here again, however, since the truth of Evolutionary Astrology is impervious to facts, it is a self-sealing doctrine.
 
 
Drawing Dogmatic Conclusions From Ambiguous Data:
A third mechanism of the self-sealing doctrine is to draw dogmatic conclusions from data that are inherently ambiguous. Rather than acknowledge the uncertain meaning of particular facts, their significance is stretched or distorted so as to confirm one’s presuppositions. Here we finally address the alleged “evidence” that reincarnational astrologers utilize to justify their theories. In this regard, I will again focus on Green and Forrest’s work, as they have at least attempted to defend their theories through various writings.
A good example of drawing dogmatic conclusions from ambiguous data is Green’s account of a case involving a six-year old boy who refused to be toilet trained. Green cites this case in response to criticisms made in an article that questioned the veracity of past-life claims in astrology. He asserts that “specific methodologies exist within astrology [that] empirically measure the prior-life dynamics within a birth chart.” Moreover, these prior-life dynamics “can be tested”. As an example, he cites the aforementioned case involving a bedwetting boy.
 
According to Green, the parents were frustrated because conventional treatments had failed to help the child, although no explanation is given as to what these treatments were. Green comes to the rescue by interpreting the “prior-life dynamics” of the boy’s birthchart: “It was very clear that the child came into this life with an extreme fear of loss, abandonment, and betrayal,” says Green. He concludes that the boy is compensating for a fear of abandonment by refusing to be toilet trained. The parents are advised to whisper every night in the boy’s ear that he is loved and they will never abandon him. Apparently, the boy got better. Green ends his defense of Evolutionary Astrology by asserting:
I would argue that these parents did, in fact, find it useful to understand the prior-life dynamics that were the cause of this problem and to follow the nontraditional treatment that allowed the child to heal and to move on from the prior-life traumas.
While Green’s “nontraditional treatment” may well have been effective, it could be argued that this had nothing to do with his astrological claim that the child was suffering from a past-life trauma. Efficacy of treatment is often unrelated to underlying theory. It has been well established that a practitioner’s faith in his/her technique has a powerful impact on its effectiveness, which is why competing brands of therapy can claim equal success. Also, assuring a child that s/he is loved could be an antidote for all sorts of problems caused by all sorts of conditions.
 
The psychological basis for the boy’s condition could actually be explained by a number of alternative hypotheses, e.g., a maturational lag interacting with maladaptive toilet training practices, or a lack of inner security due to destabilizing disruptions in the home environment such as frequent moves, parents fighting, alcoholism, threats from the birth of siblings, and so on (Schaefer & Milman, 1981). In the absence of biographical data, it’s impossible to know what might have contributed to the boy’s bedwetting. It is perhaps not surprising that the parent’s took to Green’s diagnosis of a prior-life trauma, since it relieves them of any guilt they might feel for their child’s problem.
 
As Green offers no information about the astrological factors that were allegedly involved, it is difficult to comment on this matter. It’s conceivable that some part of the birthchart suggested abandonment issues that underlay the child’s problems with bed-wetting, e.g., Moon conjunct Venus in Cancer in the 8th opposing Neptune in Capricorn in the 2nd. While such a configuration might relate to a past-life trauma, there is no way of knowing for sure; thus, it’s speculative. Past-life hypotheses are actually superfluous since we do not even know the boy’s current life history. If the child’s symptoms were relieved by seeding his unconscious with assurances that he will always be loved, that outcome is fortunate but it does not constitute evidence for Green’s hypothesis of a past-life trauma. To assume otherwise is to draw dogmatic conclusions from ambiguous data.
 
Steven Forrest offers another example of this sort of reasoning. When questioned by an interviewer about the lack of empirical evidence to substantiate past life claims in astrology, Forrest responds: “I have so much evidence. I don’t need any more evidence.” But what is this evidence? Forrest offers the following:
I feel fully capable of proving the relevance of the “karmic story” to present psychological dynamics. Reincarnation itself is the major “assumption” made in this work. Once that is assumed, then it follows logically that the present birthchart would be a reflection of prior life dynamics and issues. The South Node of the moon represents something brought in from the “past” (i.e., karma). We essentially read the Node as we would a planet, modifying and developing its meaning through the usual parameters—aspects, sign, house, ruler, and so forth. The only exotic part is reincarnation. The rest is logic and the application of the same principles that work elsewhere in astrology.
Within the rather strict confines created by this methodology, we “create a story” that we claim parallels the actual “true” story of the prior life. Then [we] apply the usual test: does it work? Does it help the client?
The emotional and cathartic impact of the information generated by this approach has transformed my entire approach to working with clients. I frankly don’t view it as “speculative” at all…since it stands the ultimate test: helping people change. The only fair “test,” in my view, is the relevance of the past life information to the present life dynamics. When it passes that test and enhances the client’s understanding and resolution to grow, I’m not particularly bothered if there’s some dissonance between my work and the belief systems characteristic of the current mainstream.
I’ve quoted Forrest at some length here because I think these passages nicely summarize the essence of Evolutionary Astrology while also providing a good example of drawing dogmatic conclusions from ambiguous data. In this case, the “data” is the client’s response to the past-life story. Note, however, that “data” in this sense does not conform to the conventional meaning of data, i.e., evidence pertinent to a research hypothesis. Relevant data for reincarnational astrology would be observations of actual past-life behavior. Yet, the key passage citing evidence in Forrest’s account is:
Within the rather strict confines created by this methodology, we “create a story” that we claim parallels the actual “true” story of the prior life. Then [we] apply the usual test: does it work? Does it help the client?
In the foregoing statement, there is an implied research hypothesis—namely, that a past-life story created from analysis of the South Node parallels the actual “true” story of the prior life. Forrest then claims this hypothesis can be tested by assessing whether the past-life story “helps the client.” But such a test is misleading because the only data pertinent to this hypothesis would be actual evidence from a prior life. The client’s response to the interpretation is irrelevant since, like Green’s case involving the bedwetting boy, efficacy of the treatment is not evidence for the validity of the underlying theory. Yet, Forrest assumes that if the client is “helped,” i.e., has some sort of emotional/cathartic response to the story, this is evidence that his theory is confirmed. As he says, “I have so much evidence. I don’t need any more evidence.” But if there is a more plausible explanation for the client’s response to the story, then Forrest may be guilty of drawing a dogmatic conclusion from ambiguous data.
 
Let’s examine this more closely. In Evolutionary Astrology, the practitioner makes up a past-life story on the basis of what is observed in the chart, beginning with the South Node. After analyzing its sign, house, aspects, and ruler, a great deal of information is synthesized into a single, coherent story that eventually encompasses most of the horoscope. It should come as no surprise that the client feels an emotional resonance with the constructed scenario, for it is based on the current-life chart. After all, this is what a horoscope depicts: a story replete with specific characters (planets) performing roles (signs) in relationship to other characters (aspects) in various life-contexts (houses).
 
In effect, the chart symbolizes the story of the current life, but it can do so in a variety of ways depending upon the individual’s level of integration and maturity. As people develop and evolve over the course of their lives, they live out their charts on different levels such that the same chart can symbolize multiple story possibilities. The story as lived and told by the client is merely one possibility that reflects the symbolism of the chart; many other stories would fit the chart just as well. This is why the fictional works of an author tend to repeat specific themes and plots, for such stories are metaphorical equivalents of the author’s character structure as reflected in his horoscope. In this sense, all fictional work is inescapably autobiographical. George Lucas created the character Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, which is reputedly autobiographical, but Lucas doesn’t think he was Luke in another life—except, perhaps, in the life of his imagination. The point here is that fictional stories are metaphors of the author’s psychic structure and therefore of the author’s astro-logical chart, which symbolizes that structure.
 
Stories that evolutionary astrologers construct about their client’s past lives are analogous to the stories that authors of fiction create, since in both cases the guiding template is the subject’s horoscope. Such stories quite likely do depict the psychodynamics of the current life as symbolized by the client’s birthchart. If the astrologer is skilled, the client is naturally going to resonate to the story of his life re-told from a different perspective, e.g., someone with Saturn conjunct the South Node in Gemini in the 9th house might be told, “You were a 12th century monk in medieval England responsible for translating scripture into Latin…” As Forrest declares, the astrologer may have the gender wrong or the century wrong or the continent wrong, but it doesn’t really matter. Such a story can be meaningful not because it parallels the client’s past life, but because it parallels the client’s current life—like a parable—and thus has great explanatory and emotional power. It can objectify psychological issues and themes in a manner that affords real insight.
 
Psychotherapists utilize this technique, too, even though they do not have the advantage of astrological charts to guide them in the retelling of their client’s stories. Narrative therapy, for example, is based on the idea that every life is a story, but that too often clients construct self-narratives that are full of blame, guilt, and hopelessness. Such stories limit their understanding of the past and close off possibilities for the future. By helping client’s re-author their lives from a new, fresh perspective, they can be liberated from grim, problem-saturated narratives and actualize new stories of courage, fulfillment, and unfolding potential (Aftel, 1996; Freedman & Combs, 1996). In the book, Constructing Therapeutic Narratives, the first paragraph says it all:
Why is narrative so crucial to psychotherapy? Because our clients come to us with powerful stories about themselves, characterized by bleak self-portrayals, inexorable plots, narrow themes, and demoralizing meanings. How can we compete with such stories that are not only well-rehearsed but also backed by mountains of selective negative evidence – stories so persuasive that the client does not view them as stories at all, but as slices of life? We must build, together with the client, stories that are no less compelling. We must pitch portrayal against portrayal, plot against plot, theme against theme, and meaning against meaning. It will not do, however, simply to write a new story in opposition to the old one. To succeed, the new story must be close enough to the client’s experience so that she may view it as her story; on the other hand, it must be different enough from the old story, so as to allow for new meanings and options to be perceived. (Omer & Alon, 1997, p. ix)
I submit this is exactly what evolutionary astrologers are doing with the following caveat: Evolutionary Astrology entails an interpretive sleight of hand that deceives the client (and perhaps the practitioner) into believing that the made-up story parallels a real past life. It is far more likely that the story actually symbolizes a fictitious parallel life—a life that parallels in meaning and quality the current life of the individual. Whether you put this story in the past, or the present, or in the future a la Star Wars, doesn’t really matter so long as it accurately re-symbolizes the client’s real life story.
 
If our research hypothesis were changed to say, “a parallel-life story can be constructed from the birthchart that is relevant to the client’s psychodynamics and that helps to objectify the client’s psychological issues,” then the client’s response to this hypothesis would constitute evidential data. In other words, if all Forrest claimed was that his past-life stories were relevant to the client’s present psycho-dynamics, then this would be easy to prove. For if the astrologer were skilled, then it’s likely that such a story would be meaningful and helpful to the client. However, for Forrest to go further and claim that the helpfulness of the story constitutes evidence that it parallels a “real” past life is unwarranted. Such a conclusion is based on evidence that is not merely ambiguous, but irrelevant. If the client is helped this merely confirms that fictional stories derived from the birthchart can be helpful. To say anymore than this is to stretch the significance of the client’s response for the sake of confirming the presuppositions of Evolutionary Astrology.
 
One might anticipate that evolutionary astrologers will argue that their stories work precisely because the South Node symbolizes karma from past lives. Yet, it cannot be overstated that all one can actually know about the South Node is that it appears to correlate to a deeply ingrained, inborn pattern of feeling and behavior, just as the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant correspond to deeply ingrained, inborn patterns. This is all that we can actually observe. Over time, one might notice a shift in behavior from what is more familiar (South Node) to what is less familiar (North Node), and back and forth, until the polarity is maximally integrated over the course of the life. Astrologers can embellish this simple observation with all sorts of esoteric meanings and karmic entailments, but it doesn’t change the fact that all we can know is what we can observe. To claim any more than this is to draw a dogmatic conclusion from ambiguous data.
 
 
Idiosyncratic Terminology:
A fourth mechanism of the self-sealing doctrine is employment of idiosyncratic terminology in which conventional meanings of words are changed or distorted. For example, in the context of defending a truth claim, the word “methodology” refers to the specific research method that is utilized in testing a hypothesis, e.g., the experimental method. However, when Green writes that there are “specific methodologies that exist within astrology which do, in fact, empirically measure the prior-life dynamics within the birth chart,” and that such claims “can be tested,” his methodology has nothing to do with research or testing. What he is actually referring to are the specific techniques that evolutionary astrologers use to derive alleged past-life information from the chart—analysis of the South Node’s sign, house, aspects, and so on. This is not a “research method” at all; it is simply an idiosyncratic method of natal chart interpretation. As such, it offers no actual means for testing the claim that prior-life dynamics can be discerned from an astrological chart. Because a method of interpretation is not a method of research, Forrest and Green’s use of the word “methodologies” in the context of arguing the validity of their theory is idiosyncratic and thus misleading.
In other writings, Forrest and Green explain how prior-life material tends to repeat itself in the present-life context and that, “It is observable and verifiable.” Forrest claims that whereas conventional psychology is limited to observing the current life-span, Evolutionary Astrology enables the practitioner to perceive “the childhood of the soul.” “Otherwise,” he says, “our ideas and procedures are identical to those of psychologists—and equally verifiable.” Again, however, such a statement is misleading, for the common meaning of the phrase “observable and verifiable” refers to evidential data that can be observed and consensually validated.
 
For example, if someone puts forward a research hypothesis that the South Node symbolizes a specific past-life behavioral pattern, then evidential data pertinent to this hypothesis would be observations of a subject’s past-life behavior. “Verifiable” means that subsequent researchers can observe the same data. However, when Forrest and Green use this phrase they are merely referring to the client’s current-life response to their interpretations. If the client resonates with their past-life story, then this is taken as observable and verifiable evidence of the client’s past life. However, this is like saying that evidence for a diagnosis of leukemia is the client’s emotional response to the diagnosis. If the client is alarmed, the diagnosis is confirmed.
 
Similarly, the phrase “empirically measure” normally refers to being able to quantify a particular datum such as how many times a person commits a specific behavioral act. However, when Green and Forrest say they can empirically measure the prior-life dynamics within a birth chart, what they actually mean is that they can analyze a birthchart in terms of their techniques, e.g., they can measure the degree of exactitude involving an applying square from Venus to Pluto. Used in this way, the phrase “empirically measure” is vacuous.
 
Finally, the phrase “testable and repeatable” means that a given hypothesis can be tested against the available evidence, and that such a test is repeatable. If a test were repeated with the same positive outcome, this would constitute a higher degree of confirmation for the hypothesis. Again, however, what Green and Forrest mean by these terms is completely at odds with conventional usage. “Testable” in their world simply refers to whether the client feels “helped” by the interpretation, and “repeatable” means that they can perform the same test with another client. In this context, the words “testable” and “repeatable” are rendered trivial and meaningless.
 
In short, Forrest and Green’s idiosyncratic use of research terminology is but a linguistic sleight of hand that gives the false impression that their theory is falsifiable, i.e., in accord with acceptable scientific procedures for determining validity. Upon closer examination it turns out to be smoke and mirrors. Their methodology is tautological in that it presumes the truth of the theory it claims to prove. I think it would be fair to say that Forrest and Green’s verbal legerdemain is probably unintentional, more due to a lack of familiarity with research protocols than an actual intent to deceive. Whether they are intentionally hoodwinking the astrological community or merely deceiving themselves, the end result is the same: their theory is vacuous.
 
 
The Inescapable Ambiguity of Meaning
Another problem involving the construction of past-life scenarios has to do with the inescapable ambiguity of astrological meanings. Anyone who does astrology long enough comes to realize that a given configuration can manifest in any number of ways depending upon how it is situated in the chart as a whole. Chart meanings also vary in conformity to the person’s overall maturity, psychological integration, and degree of self-actualization. However, there is no way of discerning a client’s level of realization merely from the chart. One must talk to the person.
The situation is compounded by the fact that people change. What a configuration means at one stage of life may be completely different at a later stage. How much a person transforms and evolves over time is indeterminate; thus, it cannot be predicted. Again, the only way to know at what level a person is living his or her chart is to conduct an interview. At a minimum the astrologer should determine the client’s current symptoms and concerns, mental status, family background, personal strengths, and any vulnerabilities such as a history of violence or childhood abuse. None of this can be known with certainty from the chart alone.
 
If astrologers cannot know how clients are living their charts in this life (i.e., without dialogue), it is even more questionable to assume that they can know how a chart reflects a past life. Stories about past lives may be constructed in accordance with well-defined rules of chart interpretation, but this is swinging in the dark if the astrologer cannot interview the past-life personality.
 
Let’s assume a client has Venus square Neptune and she reports a gamut of unfortunate life experiences that this aspect sometimes connotes—lovers that deceive, indiscriminate affairs, idealization of the beloved followed by disillusionment, tragic loss of love, unconscious guilt that leads to self-sabotage in relationships, a compulsion to rescue lovers from self-destructive behaviors, and so on. How can one relate this pattern in a meaningful way to our client’s past lives? There are a variety of past life scenarios that one could make up about the aspect, each based on different psychological dynamics.
 
For example, the current life difficulty might be the continuation of an old habit that the client has yet to resolve. Perhaps in a previous life she was a nun and believed that carnal love was sinful and that one should sacrifice human intimacies for love of Christ alone. Her current life merely continues a pattern of Venusian guilt and sacrifice that was established in a previous incarnation. Thus, she chooses lovers that shun commitment because unconsciously she feels sinful if she derives pleasure from a human relationship.
 
Or perhaps the aspect reflects the tragic and traumatic loss of one’s beloved in a prior life, a loss from which she never recovered. If Venus is in the 1st house, perhaps the lover was killed in a duel with a rival suitor and so our client carries a vestige of guilt from that life. If her grief over this loss is frozen, she may need to repeat the scenario over and over until she releases it. Thus, in the present incarnation, she is stuck in a belief that “love leads to loss” and she atones for her unconscious guilt by choosing men who abandon her.
 
Or, is the aspect a consequence of some action in a past life that led to others experiencing loss and tragedy in love? Perhaps she was a man in a previous incarnation that repeatedly cheated on his wife and ultimately abandoned his family for a life of unbounded and indiscriminate pleasure—consorting with prostitutes and satisfying his physical appetites without restraint. Now, in this life, our client is learning what it is like to be deceived and abandoned by lovers who cannot be trusted.
 
In each past life story the aspect takes on an entirely different meaning and conceivably would lead to the astrologer offering radically different advice. If she was the nun then she needs to stop feeling guilty about wanting human relationship; if she was the woman whose lover was killed then she needs to release her grief and guilt over that loss; and if she was the man who betrayed his wife then she needs to recognize the compassion already learned in this life and forgive her past life excesses.
 
Each story (and many others) could be equally relevant to the woman’s presenting problem. But which past-life story will the astrologer tell? Obviously, whichever story is chosen will have less to do with the client than with the astrologer. In other words, in the absence of any actual data about the client’s past-life, the astrologer has no choice but to make up a scenario that fits the aspect. But this scenario issues from the astrologer’s mind; thus, it is more a statement about the astrologer than the client.
 
The point is that anyone who knows astrology can look at a chart and make up a plausible story about what might have happened in a previous life. Because astrology is a symbolic language, it is easy to project meanings that spring entirely from the astrologer’s imagination. Regardless of which story is told, the client may identify with it and actually feel helped. Jung defined neurosis as suffering yet to find its meaning. Because client’s hunger for meaning, they are apt to feel helped and even relieved by stories that place their suffering in a plausible context. Again, however, efficacy of treatment—client relief—is not evidence of a theory’s validity. One can easily see how a client’s feeling of relief can be motivated by a need for meaning that is independent of the form in which that meaning arrives.
 
Unfortunately, fabricated stories about past lives may not always lead to relief, especially when astrologers allege that clients did or experienced something negative in a past life. Such claims can induce fear and guilt. A client might disclose, for example, that she has a history of sexual abuse beginning with her father. Desperate to say something meaningful, the astrologer thoroughly examines her chart and trumpets: “Oh, you have Saturn in the 8th house square Mars in the 10th. This means you misused sexual power in a past life and that’s why you are the victim of it in this incarnation.” Okay, that’s plausible; it might be true. But not only is such information not useful (it’s blaming the victim), it is also misleading because the astrologer’s pronouncement implies there is some kind of cosmic proof that underlies the veracity of the statement. The client is defenseless because she has no way of confirming whether or not the interpretation is true. If she is vulnerable to guilt, which is usually the case with victims of sexual molestation, then she is apt to accept the interpretation uncritically—to her own detriment.
 
In fact, any number of stories could be invented that are equally plausible. Reading past lives into horoscopes is a form of a priori reasoning and gives a false impression that astrology provides its practitioners with categorical knowledge of the mysteries of individual existence.
 
Conclusion
The commercialization of reincarnation through the sale of astrological readings, books, and computer-generated reports casts a tawdry shadow over the entire field. The law of karma is at the core of virtually every spiritual tradition that has exerted influence throughout recorded history and is arguably the deepest, most profound of all moral teachings. Likewise, the doctrine of reincarnation refers to the immortality of the human soul and outlines the means by which the psyche finds its way home—reunited with the source of its own being. For astrologers to commercialize these sacred doctrines for personal profit through a pretense of transcendental knowledge is ethically indefensible. Merely believing in reincarnation does not entitle one to make up stories of past lives and then sell this information to the gullible masses. Such a practice exploits the credulity of clients by fraudulently portraying the astrologer as having knowledge not actually possessed.
 
For an astrological hypothesis to be testable and thus substantiated it must be capable of disproof on the basis of evidence; otherwise, it falls into the category of mere speculation. Speculative doctrines often masquerade as established truths. Proponents of reincarnational astrology utilize mechanisms that are self-sealing rather than admit the doctrine’s questionable veracity. A self-sealing doctrine is a belief system immunized against contrary evidence so that that no criticism can possibly be brought against it.
 
Acceptance of falsifiability as a criterion of astrological theory would go far toward promoting constructive dialogue within the field. Avoiding intellectual isolation and fragmentation is important for any academic discipline. It is especially desirable for a field like astrology, which must try to contain the conflicting claims of many schools, some of which are unwilling to hear any criticism. Astrology cannot proceed as a real profession if we do not remain open to refutation. The whole enterprise of scholarly research is dedicated to the proposition that one can change people’s minds by presenting good evidence. It may not be easy to get reincarnational astrologers to look at their models critically, but if we don’t try then we are neglecting an essential task. The point is we can’t have it both ways; we can’t whine about astrology being discredited and simultaneously defend our right to dogmatically proclaim “truths” without a shred of evidence to back them up.
 
The assertions of reincarnational astrology are presently unverifiable, and there is little reason to expect this will change in the future. Accordingly, if reincarnational astrology is ever to emerge from its current phase of untested evangelism, then it must be willing to subject itself to critical analysis. Otherwise, it will remain an embarrassment to the field and an easy target for our detractors. If it was only an embarrassment, that would be one thing, but the problem is more serious: reincarnational astrology borders on the unethical. So long as astrologers charge a fee for past-life interpretations without admitting that their interpretations are speculative, they are in violation of ethical norms that hold in virtually every field of counseling.
 
Again, the problem is not with reincarnational astrology itself; it is with the failure to acknowledge the speculative nature of past-life interpretations. I hope this point is clear. There is nothing unethical about speculating on possible karmic meanings of chart configurations. Viewing the chart from a karmic perspective places the client’s trials and travails in a context that is meaningful and empowering. The advantages of this model go beyond approaches that are limited to a one-life perspective. However, when astrologers become so enamored with their theory that they can no longer distinguish what is imagined from what is real, fact from fiction, inspired speculation from established truth, they have barricaded themselves in a solipsistic cocoon of delusional omniscience.
 
The best remedy against the seductive but ultimately false security of self-sealing doctrines is critical thinking, without which astrology will remain forever in danger of contamination by noxious and spurious claims. False prophets abound in fields situated in the heavenly realms. And true believers are their life-blood. Every individual astrologer needs to take special pains not to become either one—neither a false prophet, nor a true believer.
 
* * * * *
 
References
 
Aftel, M. (1996). The story of your life: Becoming the author of your own experience. New York: Simon & Schuster.
 
Avery, J. (1987). Astrology and your past lives. New York: Simon & Schuster.
 
Bache, C.M. (1994). Lifecycles: Reincarnation and the web of life. New York: Paragon House.
 
Cerminera, G. (1967). Many mansions: The Edgar Cayce story on reincarnation. New York: Penguin Books.
 
Fogelin, R. (1987). Understanding arguments: An introduction to informal logic. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
 
Forrest, S. (2005). “Astrology and reincarnation,” in The Mountain Astrologer, Issue #122, Aug/Sept 2005, p. 41-54.
 
Forrest, S., & Green, J. (2000). Measuring the night: Evolutionary Astrology and the keys to the soul, Vol. 1. Boulder, CO: Daemon Press.
 
Freedman, J., & Combs, G. (1996). Narrative therapy: The social construction of preferred realities. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
 
Green, J. (1993). Pluto: The evolutionary journey of the soul. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
 
Hall, J. (2000). Patterns of the past: The birthchart, karma and reincarnation. Bournemouth, England: The Wessex Astrologer Ltd.
 
Hansel, C.E.M. (1980). ESP and parapsychology: A critical reevaluation. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
 
Polkinghorne, D. (1983). Methodology and the human sciences. Albany: SUNY Press.
 
Omer, H., & Alon, N. (1997). Constructing Therapeutic Narratives. New York: Jason Aronson, Inc.
 
Perry, G.A. (2004). “Astrology as Personal Mythology,” in The astrology of film, Kishner, J. and Streett, W. (Eds.). New York: iUniverse, Inc.
 
Popper. K.R. (1959). The logic of scientific discovery. New York: Basic Books.
 
Rhine, J.B. (1957). Parapsychology, frontier science of the mind: A survey of the field, the methods, and the facts of ESP and PK research. New York: Thomas Publishing.
 
Schaefer, C., & Millman, H. (1981). How to help children with common problems. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.
 
Stevenson, I. (1974). Twenty cases suggestive of reincarnation. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
 
Weiss, R. (1992). Through time into healing. New York: Simon & Schuster.
 
Wiseman, R. (1997). Deception & self-deception: Investigating psychics. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
 
Woolger, R. (1987). Other lives, other selves. New York: Bantam Books.

Astro-Fundamentalism: An Ongoing Challenge


Astro-Fundamentalism

An Ongoing Challenge 

 

By Glenn Perry 

 

astro-fundamentalismOver the last decade, there has been some notable research into the history of astrology. In particular, the three Roberts—Hand, Schmidt, and Zoller—have been translating ancient texts on Hellenistic and medieval astrology. Still others have been exploring Vedic traditions. While there has been some general excitement about the recovery of lost techniques that may prove to be a boon to modern astrologers, there has also been a resurgence of interest in the age-old controversy of fate versus free will. For the most part, traditional astrology placed a stronger emphasis on fate, whereas post-modern, psychological astrology places greater importance on free will.

I’d like to reframe the fate-versus-free will argument in terms of what I call “astro-fundamentalism.” Generic fundamentalism, of course, refers to a religious impulse characterized by rigid adherence to basic principles—fundamentals—as revealed from a sacred text that stands above criticism. Fundamentalism is typically the enemy of progress, secularism, education, democracy, and free thought. In the west, it arose at the turn of the century primarily in response to the growing awareness of world religions, the teaching of human evolution and, above all, the rise of biblical higher criticism. The last proved particularly troubling because it implied the absence of the supernatural and, thus, the purely human authorship of scripture.
 
Astrologically, fundamentalism operates in a similar way. For example, one frequently hears in Vedic circles that thousands of years ago astrology was bequeathed from perfect Masters, Rishis, or wise sages who had received it through direct revelation or divine inspiration. In this view, astrological knowledge was handed down from Guru to disciple and, over the centuries, gradually became a corrupted, attenuated version of an originally perfect system. Hellenistic astrology, which was the first natal astrology of the West, is similarly assumed to have arisen whole from the mind of a single individual in a flash of divine inspiration. Ancient omniscient masters knew all and we have only to follow their divinely inspired wisdom, as revealed in sacred texts, to be good astrologers.
 
If ancient astrology was originally whole and perfect, then it follows that there is no need to question it. Modern astrology is rendered superfluous. We have only to rediscover the techniques of our divinely inspired forbearers and apply them to our modern clients. Personally, I find this kind of thinking the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. Like other forms of fundamentalism, it is rigid, opposed to progress, and threatened by the concept of evolution. A corollary is the presumption that a given astrological configuration, whether in a natal chart, a transit, or a cross-aspect between two charts, has only one meaning, and this meaning is the same across all time, regardless of the age of the native, his or her culture, or his or her level of consciousness.
 
With astro-fundamentalism there is a tendency to presume that merely because a text is ancient it deserves our allegiance. Credibility is directly proportional to age; the more ancient a text the more likely it contains irrefutable truth. Noting my disdain for such reasoning, one of my friends jokingly referred to me as a “historical chauvinist.” In some respects, he’s right; I do tend to reason in the opposite direction: that the older a text (Vedic, Hellenistic, Medieval), the more we should hold it up to critical scrutiny. One only has to look at the history of science and religion to appreciate the human propensity for believing in things that later prove to be untrue. Entire libraries could be filled with evidence of our folly. Naïve faith in the omniscience of alleged gurus is especially dangerous. Let us not forget that only a few years ago the “divinely inspired” Marshall Applewhite convinced 38 true believers to commit mass suicide in preparation for a UFO that he insisted was coming to take them to “a higher plane.”
 
Far from being divinely inspired, the rigid, deterministic character of ancient astrology was a logical outgrowth of ancient life. The further back in time we go, the less people had real choice; that is, the more determined they were by the circumstances of their birth, their family, their culture, and the limited opportunities of their surroundings. More importantly, ancient astrologers were limited in their ability to record accurate birth times. The clock wasn’t invented until the 14th century and accurate clocks were not in use among the populace until the 18th century. Moreover, there was little if any concept of evolution prior to Darwin in the 19th century. As for psychological growth and development, that idea is as recent as the latter half of the 20th century.
 
Compounding the problem was the fact that ancient astrologers had no understanding of the intricacies of research methodologies or epistemology. In addition, there were comparatively few charts to study, and these took hours to calculate by hand. Forget about true ephemeredes or awareness of the outer planets. Unless one is prepared to believe that astrology was divinely channeled through some ancient guru, the idea of an accurate, comprehensive, psychologically and spiritually relevant early astrology borders on the preposterous.
 
I’m all for “unity in diversity” in astrology; that is, tolerance and respect for divergent views, but not at the expense of critical thinking, research, and attempts to improve our discipline. Of course we should strive to understand and accept the beliefs of others; yet, we must also make a choice as to whether we support those beliefs through our direct involvement and participation.
 
In a recent ISAR Newsletter, Nick Campion provided a historical perspective on the question of fate versus free will. Hellenistic astrology, he explained, held that a person’s life and character was wholly determined by the position of the planets at the moment of birth. Early Christianity rejected this view, as they argued that the soul must be free to make moral choices and therefore is not wholly determined by the chart. The question remains: Is there something in the individual—an X factor, a soul, a capacity for free will—that is not determined by the birth chart? Some may argue that the issue is incapable of being resolved. However, I think the question can be answered by examining the consequences of the two belief-systems: (1) the determinism and fatalism of astro-fundamentalism, versus (2) the growth oriented, evolutionary perspective of post-modern, psychological astrology.
 
Innumerable studies in psychology have shown that neurotic persons are precisely the ones who tend to hold a deterministic outlook on life. They seek to blame something else for their difficulties—their parents, their childhood environment, their associates, or (we might presume) their astrological charts. However, as Rollo May (1967) pointed out nearly forty years ago, it is a presupposition in virtually all psychotherapy that the individual must sooner or later accept responsibility for himself or his suffering will not abate. Therefore determinism, which excuses him from responsibility, works in the end directly against his regaining mental health.
 
In her book, Positive Illusions (1989), Shelly Taylor cited study after study that confirmed how belief in personal control, in the power of will, and in one’s ability to bring about a positive change in one’s circumstances, no matter how trying or tragic, was the hallmark of mental health. A positive, optimistic belief in personal agency enabled people to thrive, to prosper, to grow, to heal, to succeed, and be happy. Conversely, a negative, pessimistic outlook that presumed one’s fate to be determined by circumstances beyond one’s control was the surest route to despair, defeat, sickness, and failure.
 
In short, belief in fatalism leads to neurosis and suffering, whereas belief in personal agency leads to wellness and happiness. The latter actually seems to be more in accord with the way the Universe is constructed. For example, evolutionary biology makes clear that the rule of nature is grow or die (Land, 1986). If living organisms, from human to amoeba, are not able to learn, to adapt, and evolve, they perish from this earth. It is a unique discovery of late 20th century science that there is an arrow of time and that arrow points irreversibly toward greater awareness and complexity of organization; that is, physical and biological systems have an inherent tendency to evolve into more complex states. Also, there is an inescapable indeterminacy at work in the Universe. Living systems are in many ways free and unpredictable, even at a subatomic level. They evolve by adapting to circumstances that are generated by their own actions. Increasing degrees of freedom is the apparent gift of evolution. The more evolved the organism, the more free and self-determining it becomes.
 
To presume that all is fated is to plunge the rapier into the deepest part of one’s own soul. It is to deny the most fundamental of human capacities: our ability to create, to make something of our selves. To presume that all is fated is also to deny our ability to learn from the consequences of our choices. It is to deny our capacity to change and grow and evolve. Is this not the purpose of karma, to learn? No one who has been in successful psychotherapy, or who has worked with clients in psychotherapy, can deny the human capacity for change. Too often I have seen people shift from a negative, fearful, bitter orientation to one that is positive, hopeful, and loving. Inner changes seem inevitably to be accompanied by corresponding changes in outer circumstance. Are we to presume that even changes such as these, which in every sense appear to be a consequence of courageous human effort, are merely fated?
 
And if they are not fated, if they are a product, at least in part, of heroic human effort, what does this imply about the astrological chart? What does it imply about my friend, Susan, who has Sun conjunct Moon in Capricorn in the 12th exactly square Neptune in the 8th. Susan married two highly successful men, both of whom lied, betrayed, and cheated on her throughout her marriages. At the end of her second marriage she was so depressed and discouraged that she was on the brink of suicide. After a successful experience in psychotherapy, however, Susan rebounded and utterly changed her life. Following her second divorce, which left her quite wealthy, she is now the executor of a charity in which she gives away $200,000 a year of her own money to women who are suffering from lack of opportunity. Susan is one of the most sensible, loving, and genuinely happy people I know. She has taken her seriously stressed 12th house Capricorn planets and transformed herself from depressed victim to executive savior. Clearly, she is living out her chart on a higher level. Is this fate? Or is her fate a product of her capacity to learn, to adapt, and to evolve?
 
Certainly, I could not have predicted what Susan was to eventually make of herself. Would I have helped Susan if I told her that with Sun conjunct Moon in the 12th square Neptune she is fated to experience perpetual loss, grief, and betrayal? In fact, there were several equally possible outcomes to this Capricornian configuration. She might have ended up a tragic suicide, psychotically depressed, a ruthless drug dealer, a snobby alcoholic, a bag lady with a bossy attitude, a conservative prison warden, a callous Nurse Ratched, or a successful executive in charge of a charity that gives disadvantaged woman a chance to better themselves. Of course, there are other possibilities, too. It seems the more we know about astrology the more difficult it becomes to predict specific outcomes. The best I could have done is pointed her toward a higher, more integrated expression of her chart and thereby given her something to shoot for. As it is, she did it on her own.
 
All of this is to say that I believe fatalism is not only destructive to our clients, it is also destructive to our field—to the entire profession of astrology—because it poisons people’s attitude toward what we do. Many otherwise intelligent people are prejudiced against astrology precisely because it seems to imply and support a fatalistic attitude. We have enough problems without shooting ourselves in the foot with the poison dart of fatalism.
 
In a recent letter to the ISAR Newsletter, Jean Lall, who is an excellent psychotherapist and astrologer, addressed the issue of fate versus free will. I particularly resonated with Jean’s exhortation that we strive to find a “position that avoids the hubris of thinking that everything is fated and astrology can foretell it all, and the equal and opposite inflation of thinking that we astrologers can help our clients master the planets and conquer fate.”
 
I think this nicely captures the paradox of the human condition: we are creatures of fate, yet have the power to choose. There are, indeed, certain “givens” within the astrological chart that constitute a fate; yet, there is equally the opportunity for working within those parameters to create a higher, more integrated, and more self-actualized expression of what we inherently are. It seems to me that what is important about an event is not the event itself, but what it means; that is, the event’s purpose or significance with regard to our potential growth as spiritual beings.
 
In the same Newsletter that contained Jean’s thoughts, a Vedic astrologer claimed that “in the ancient days” astrologers were “divinely inspired,” whereas today’s astrologers are relatively ignorant. Actually, I would suggest the situation is precisely the reverse. The rigid, narrow, fatalistic pronouncements of ancient astrologers are not testimony to their enlightenment, but to their ignorance. This is not to blame ancient astrologers, for they were inescapably a product of their times. The point is this: the more uncomfortable one is with the inherent uncertainty of the birthchart (and the indeterminacy of the human being it symbolizes), the more one is likely to presume a certainty where none exists.
 
To be a good astrologer, it is at least as important to know what cannot be known as to know what can. When counseling clients, my guiding value is to empower them, not to take their power away by presuming to know who they should marry, where they should live, or what career they should have. Many people are seeking help from astrologers precisely because they have lost contact with their own “inner sight,” their own divinity. This is not something we want to reinforce with the “help” we give. In my opinion, authentic helping entails putting clients back in touch with their own source of knowing. We don’t want to make them dependent on us by claiming that the authority of the cosmos has been “given” to us by ancient astrological gurus.
 

* * * * *

References
Land, G. (1986). Grow or die: The unifying principle of transformation. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
 
May, R. (1967). The Art of Counseling. New York: Abingdon Press.
 
Taylor, S. (1989). Positive Illusions: Creative Self-Deception and The Healthy Mind. New York: Basic Books.

Astrology and Psychotherapy: Ethical Considerations

Astrology and Psychotherapy 
Differences, Similarities, and Ethical Considerations

By Glenn Perry

 

Astrology and PsychotherapyWhat are the differences between consulting astrology, psychological astrology, and psychotherapy? Whereas consulting astrology is a general term that encompasses most types of astrology, psychological astrology is a specialized subfield that focuses on issues of personality growth and fulfillment. Like virtually all forms of astrology, psychological astrology is generally limited to single session counseling and can be differentiated from psychotherapy by virtue of the latter’s structure of ongoing sessions. There is a marked similarity between psychological astrology and psychotherapy, as both have similar goals and may utilize similar techniques. However, there are important differences, too. Astrologers not trained in psychotherapy may find themselves in an ethical bind when asked by clients to be seen in ongoing counseling.

Consulting Astrology

In section “D” of the ISAR (International Society for Astrological Research) ethics code, Consulting Astrology is defined as follows:

An astrological consultant is one whose services include discussion of an astrological chart in order to (1) help individuals recognize their strengths and talents, (2) provide insight into life issues, (3) elucidate patterns of growth and development, (4) confirm self-knowledge, (5) suggest the life purpose, (6) reveal periods of crisis and opportunity, (7) explore the meaning of a particular experience or phase of life, or (8) provide guidance as to timing or decisions with regard to a particular course of action.

By definition, when astrologers work with individuals or couples and address any of the above concerns, they are doing consulting, or counseling. Whereas some astrologers attempt to differentiate “consulting” from “counseling,” the difference for our purposes is less than clear. According to my dictionary, a consultant is “one who gives expert or professional advice,” whereas a counselor is defined as “one who gives council; an adviser.” Technically, there is little if any difference between the two. However, “counseling” is often associated with the field of counseling psychology, as in a “marriage counselor”. In this regard, “counseling” is more closely aligned with psychology than “consulting”. Even so, there is little to differentiate the two terms in astrology and for the purposes of this article they will be considered synonymous.

While some astrologers may limit themselves to writing and research, or specialize in financial, business, or other sub-disciplines, it would probably be fair to say that most professional astrologers do at least some consulting, or counseling. That is, they give “readings” and provide advice and guidance of one sort or another. In this sense, they are astrological consultants. The final entry in the above code states that consulting astrologers “provide guidance as to timing or decisions with regard to a particular course of action”. This by definition includes horary, electional, financial, business, relocational, and virtually any other type of astrology. Accordingly, the type of astrology one endorses—psychological, predictive, Vedic, Uranian, or otherwise—is not relevant to the question of whether one is an astrological consultant. Anyone who sits with a client and “reads” his or her chart is doing a consultation and thus counseling the client.

Psychological Astrology

From the foregoing we can conclude that “consulting astrology” is an umbrella term that encompasses all varieties and types of astrology. Since one can be an astrological consultant without necessarily being a particular type of astrologer, the question arises: what does it mean to specifically do psychological astrology?

To answer this question, it will be helpful to first differentiate “counseling psychology” from “clinical psychology,” the latter being synonymous with “psychotherapy” and constituting a slightly different academic and career focus.

Counseling psychology can be defined as an exchange of opinions and ideas to effectively problem-solve an individual’s daily living issues. These may be associated with his or her emotional, cognitive, or behavioral problems, or they may simply be situational concerns, such as whether one should change jobs. The length of treatment may vary from a single session to a dozen or more sessions. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is a form of treatment in which a therapist establishes an ongoing relationship with an individual for the purpose of modifying self-defeating patterns of behavior and promoting positive personality growth and development. Treatment tends to be more long-term than short-term; that is, psychotherapy may encompass several months of once-weekly sessions to several years of two or three times weekly sessions.

Clinical psychologists (psychotherapists) do counseling too, but they also (1) can work with more seriously disturbed populations, (2) are trained in depth, unconscious processes (psychodynamic theory), and (3) are focused primarily on personality growth and change. Conversely, counseling psychologists (1) work with healthier, less pathological populations, (2) conduct more career and vocational assessment, and (3) are concerned primarily with solving practical, immediate concerns.

Whereas counseling is oriented more to solving problems, psychotherapy goes further in that its purpose is self-knowledge and self-transformation. In counseling, the problem is the problem. Most people seek counseling because they want help with some immediate concern such as a relationship conflict or vocational issue.

Conversely, in psychotherapy the problem is the person. People come to therapy because defenses that have served them in the past are no longer working; thus, they are seeking a deeper, more pervasive change in the way they function as a whole. Psychotherapy, therefore, is concerned with outer issues only to the extent that they provide a vehicle for exploring inner, psychological processes.

As the reader may surmise, consulting [or counseling] astrology is similar to counseling psychology, whereas psychological astrology is similar to psychotherapy. Again, counseling astrology is the broader term in that virtually all astrologers who read charts are doing counseling. Psychological astrology, on the other hand, constitutes a subfield of counseling astrology, and as such is more specific and narrow in its focus. Perhaps the defining attribute of psychological astrology is its focus on integrating the birth chart and, thus, supporting the human potential for growth and change.

Counseling astrologers provide practical guidance for personality issues and problems of everyday living. The focus is more educative, supportive, conscious oriented, and directed toward limited, concrete goals. For horary astrologers, this may mean answering a specific question with regard to a relationship. A predictive astrologer might advise his client with regard to the best time for taking a vacation. An electional astrologer could counsel his client about optimal times for launching a new business. Stock market trends are the realm of financial astrologers, and business astrologers provide advice pertaining to hiring employees, personnel decisions, expanding market share, and so on.

Psychological astrologers, on the other hand, are interested in depth, unconscious processes and the promotion of personality integration and transformation. Psychological astrology is synonymous with what is sometimes referred to as “therapeutic astrology”.

Branching out from psychological astrology are a number of related subjects, including developmental psychology and psychopathology. Both of these are extensions of psychologically oriented astrology in that they (1) have relevance to a psychological approach, and (2) can be integrated with astrological concepts and practices. It can be assumed that psychological astrologers have at least some training and familiarity with these subjects.

Psychological astrology generally entails from one to three sessions. However, even in one session the goal is to formulate an interpretation that defines and addresses psychological complexes, shadow issues, wounds, defenses, and other issues that may be operating outside the client’s awareness. Like their psychotherapist counterparts, psychological astrologers do counseling, too. They provide advice, direction, and guidance. Again, however, they are not limited to that.

A psychological astrologer is particularly interested in how the chart depicts the psychic structure and process of the individual. This is what is meant by the term psychodynamics, which refers to underlying drives, feelings, and beliefs, the interaction of which generates observable behavior and events. Instead of focusing exclusively on outcomes—observable behavior and events—the psychological astrologer explores how outcomes derive from deeper, unconscious realms of the mind (psychodynamics). Behavior is not explained in terms of alleged astrological causes; rather, astrological symbols are utilized to understand and explain psychological processes that are regarded as the true cause of behavior and events.

Psychological astrology places responsibility for life experience with the individual rather than with presumed external causes originating in the planets. The goal is to empower the client to take accountability for what s/he attracts and creates. At the heart of a psychological approach is an emphasis on facilitating the client’s growth and development toward an optimal state.

Astrology and Psychotherapy

Differences between psychological astrology and psychotherapy are more a matter of degree than of type. Both practices have similar goals and may utilize similar techniques. For example, insight into unconscious, maladaptive beliefs typifies both practices, and each depends upon empathic confrontations and artful interpretation. Likewise, promoting personality growth and healing is implicit in both procedures. It can even be said that one session of psychological astrology can encapsulate an entire process of psychotherapy, if only in microcosm. Disconfirmation of pathogenic beliefs, emotional release, and subsequent integration of disowned parts is at least possible in a single astrological consultation.

The most obvious difference between the two disciplines is the amount of time expended in the process. In the vast majority of astrological cases, a client will come for a single session, although multiple sessions are not uncommon. Even here, however, it would be comparatively rare for a client to come for more than three or four sessions. There’s only so much one can say about a chart or an issue before it starts to become redundant. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, generally unfolds over a period of several months to several years and focuses more on supporting the client in a process of internal exploration and discovery.

This highlights an essential difference between the psychological astrologer and the psychotherapist. The former utilizes astrology for the sake of clarifying psychological issues and conflicts; the latter utilizes psychotherapeutic techniques for the sake of resolving psychological issues and conflicts.

Psychological astrology is best utilized as a diagnostic tool that can quickly illuminate what is unconscious and pathogenic in the client. While this may have some immediate therapeutic benefit, in most cases true growth and healing comes from a slower, more thorough exploration of the issues that have been uncovered. In the typical astrological consultation, there is simply not enough time to engage in such a process.

Like a map-reader, the astrologer can point out the various challenges, difficulties, and obstacles that a traveler might encounter on his or her path of unfoldment. The astrologer might even provide some useful suggestions for how to best negotiate the journey. It is the psychotherapist, however, that accompanies the seeker on the actual route, helping, advising, and supporting every step of the way.

An astrologer’s greatest value is his or her ability to accelerate the uncovering of meaning. Clients often seek consultations when they are struggling with a personal difficulty. Such difficulties are generally rooted in intrapsychic conflict, which is inherent in the psyche and symbolized by the astrological chart. Intrapsychic conflict manifests as pathogenic beliefs and self-defeating behavior.

Outer problems and struggles are synchronistic manifestations of the psyche/chart, and provide a vehicle for the resolution of internal conflict. The advantage of an astrological consult is that it can quickly reveal how inner and outer factors are tied together. A configuration like Sun square Pluto can symbolize an internal conflict, a resultant pathogenic belief, and the synchronistic import of corollary events.

All of this is equivalent to pointing out the direction of healing, a kind of warm-up or prelude to the real thing. Psychological astrologers recognize that personality evolves over time and that one’s fate changes accordingly. Transformation is not something that automatically follows an astrological revelation. Most people would agree that enduring change takes time, patience, and continued effort. Ideally, one’s commitment to change is a life-long process. Astrology’s role in this process is primarily diagnostic and prognostic; that is, a good astrological session provides insight into the nature of the client’s difficulties, while also providing hope and direction for future change.

While opportunities for healing are implicit in everyday experience, psychotherapy can assist and even accelerate the growth process, especially during times of stress or crisis. Where this differs from psychological astrology is in the emphasis that is placed on self-exploration and emotional release. In the astrological consultation, greater weight is focused on the process of interpretation—showing connections between past and present, and disclosing how pathogenic beliefs are synchronistically reflected in outer experiences.

In psychotherapy, however, the process shifts from primarily an interpretive process to one of facilitating exploration and self-discovery. The onus of responsibility is now on the client, who is expected to engage in a process of introspection. The client’s primary focus is on exploring feelings—worries, concerns, conflicts—and following where they might lead. This necessarily requires a more supportive and receptive stance on the part of the psychotherapist, who must not intrude with premature interpretations and quick fixes.

If all goes well, the client will gradually feel safe enough to recall repressed memories and experiences that have been too painful or frightening to face. Accompanying these memories are repressed feelings associated with traumatic experiences, and the grim, pathogenic ideas that formed in their wake.

Discovery of this sort has an entirely different quality than insights that derive from an astrological consultation. It is fuller, more three dimensional, and carries an emotional component that allows for deeper understanding, personality integration, and real healing. Needless to say, dealing with this sort of material in a therapeutic manner requires considerable training and expertise.

Ethical Considerations

Given the subtle but important difference between astrology and psychotherapy, various ethical codes have sections that relate to “boundaries of competence”. Ethical issues arise when astrological clients request to be seen by astrologers for an extended period of visits. Their motivation for seeking help may be governed by a fear of formal counseling, the stigma that psychotherapy might entail, or the misguided perception that astrologers have the answers to all problems. However, once the process of helping extends beyond interpretation of the client’s chart, the astrologer may unwittingly be entering the territory of psychotherapy.

Unless the astrologer has at least some formal training in this area, it would probably be in the client’s best interest to refer him or her to a professional therapist who specializes in the client’s area of concern. A client suffering from clinical depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe marital dysfunction, borderline personality disorder, or any number of other maladies is best served by practitioners who are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat such conditions.

Psychological astrologers ideally do have a therapeutic impact on clients. However, this needs to be differentiated from doing ongoing work with the psychological problems and concerns that might be uncovered during an astrological session. To the extent that such issues arise in the course of astrological work, it behooves the astrologer to respond with understanding, support, and sensitivity. However, unless they are also trained in psychotherapeutic techniques (and ideally licensed to practice psychotherapy), it would be unethical for astrologers to continue working with clients over an extended period of time.

Accordingly, in Section D.2.a. of APA’s (Association for Psychological Astrology) Code of Ethics, it states:

a. Boundaries of Competence
Consulting astrologers practice only within the boundaries of their competence and do not attempt to provide ongoing psychotherapy unless they have received the appropriate training, supervision and certification.

In the ISAR Code, a new wording for this section has been proposed:

a. Boundaries of Competence
Consulting astrologers practice only within the boundaries of their competence, do not misrepresent their formal academic qualifications, and do not claim to be psychologists or psychotherapists without the requisite training and certification.

Note that ISAR’s version introduces a subtle change in wording that actually weakens the intent of the original (APA) entry. The point of the original entry was to state that astrologers should not practice ongoing psychotherapy without the requisite training. The changed wording confuses the issue. It asserts that astrologers should not claim to be psychotherapists, but it does not declare that astrologers should not practice psychotherapy. The problem is that some astrologers do ongoing psychotherapeutic work with clients without necessarily claiming to be psychotherapists.

The question is whether it is sufficient to simply say that astrologers should not “claim” to be psychotherapists, or whether a code should provide a clear, definitive guideline that states astrologers should not “practice” psychotherapy. ISAR’s version is based on a concern that astrological counseling will sometimes overlap with psychotherapy. Prohibiting astrologers from practicing psychotherapy might be misconstrued to mean that astrologers shouldn’t provide any type of counseling, or should not interpret the chart in ways that might be therapeutic. However, this position is untenable. While the difference between therapeutic astrology and psychotherapy may be more one of degree than of type, I think that most reasonable people can differentiate between the two.

Again, the most obvious difference between the two disciplines is the amount of time expended in the process. Astrological work rarely extends beyond one to three sessions, whereas psychotherapy can last from several months to ten or more years. There are other differences, too. Astrological work may at times deviate from the chart and get into sensitive, emotional areas with a client, but almost invariably it will circle back to the chart as the primary means for conveying meaning.

Conversely, even for psychotherapists who use astrology, it would be rare for them to actually talk about the chart with the client; rather, the horoscope is used as a diagnostic tool that accelerates insight and deepens empathic rapport. The client benefits indirectly from the increased understanding that the chart affords the therapist. Reference to the chart is generally unnecessary, for it runs the risk of intruding into the client’s inner exploration and shifting the focus to a heady, intellectual realm.

If astrologers undertake the responsibility of working with clients on an ongoing basis, the problem is not that they can never help, but that without the requisite training in assessment and diagnosis it will be difficult to differentiate between those cases where they can and they can’t. To be really good at diagnosis takes years of education and thousands of hours of supervision. Psychological assessment and diagnosis of an actual client is an ongoing process. If a client turns out to have been molested as a child and suffers from borderline personality disorder, this might not be evident to a trained psychotherapist until several months into therapy even if they know astrology. Moreover, proper diagnosis is the key to proper treatment. Truly helping such a client could take years of intensive, painstaking work.

This same client might request from her astrologer that she be “helped” with her low self-esteem and tumultuous relationships. She asks to be seen on an ongoing basis. If the astrologer accedes to her request, he will be entering into a dark quagmire from which it will be difficult to extricate himself without doing damage to his client, himself, or both.

The point is that even if a client requests it, this does not justify accepting payment for “help” that one may not be able to provide. By opening the door to working therapeutically with a client on a regular basis, the astrologer runs the risk of being paid for services that he later discovers are outside his boundaries of competence. Once this is realized, it’s already too late, for the damage has been done. The client is poorer in both money and his or her mental health. An appropriate referral could have been made.

It is tempting to believe that astrologers can be all things for all people, but we cannot. Astrology is an enormously powerful tool, and astrologers must ever be on guard against the hubris that working with such a tool can evoke.

It is precisely because there is a fuzzy overlap between astrological counseling and psychotherapy that necessitates an injunction that astrologers not practice psychotherapy. Such an injunction does not prohibit astrologers from being therapeutic, sensitive, empathic, insightful, and so on. It simply establishes that one should not do “ongoing” psychotherapy unless one has received the appropriate training.

The keyword here is “ongoing”. So long as psychologically oriented astrologers do effective work with clients, they are vulnerable to accepting payment for extended services that are beyond their boundaries of competence. Financial incentives, not wanting to reject or disappoint the client, ego gratification, and various other factors can all contribute to difficulties in establishing clear boundaries in this area.

Summary and Conclusion

Consulting astrology is a generic term that encompasses virtually all types of consultations with clients. The general focus is on providing advice for dealing with everyday problems and concerns. Psychological astrology is a subset of consulting astrology, and strives for a deeper understanding of personality issues and psychic wounds. The emphasis shifts from the surface to the depths, from what is apparent to what is implicit, and entails the uncovering of unconscious conflicts and beliefs that underlay presenting problems.

Whereas consulting astrology provides education and direction, psychological astrology goes further in that it sets the stage for healing and transformation. The actual work of healing may best be facilitated by psychotherapy, which affords the support, structure, and time that enduring change requires.

While there are fundamental differences between all three models, there are overlapping similarities, too. Each discipline deals with the psyche at a different level; yet, all are dedicated to the process of helping the client surmount the challenges of everyday living. Astrology is of inestimable value in the process of psychotherapy, for it can accelerate the diagnostic phase, enhance empathy, and illuminate the path of healing.

It is precisely astrology’s value as a therapeutic tool that can seduce astrologers into doing ongoing psychotherapy with clients; yet, there is the accompanying risk of providing ineffective or even harmful treatment. Accordingly, it is imperative that astrologers practice only within the boundaries of their competence and do not attempt to provide ongoing psychotherapy unless they have received the appropriate training, supervision and certification.

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Astrological Research: From Paradigm To Method

Astrological Research
From Paradigm to Method

By Glenn Perry

 

astrological researchMethods are rooted in paradigms and serve as the proper instruments for researching the kinds of questions that make sense within a given paradigm. In this article, I will argue that methods which derive from the mechanistic paradigm of modern science are inappropriate for astrological research and therefore unlikely to provide support for the astrological hypothesis. 

A paradigm is the worldview within which one attempts to understand a given phenomenon. Theories are housed in paradigms like steel girders within a skyscraper. Remove a theory from the paradigm it naturally supports and the theory becomes unintelligible, like trying to understand the concept of “steel girder” with no concept of what “building” means. Without buildings, steel girders make no sense.

Vice versa, placing a theory in the wrong paradigm and then assessing its validity is like placing a dream under a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine to discern its meaning. Reduced to electronic signals that form images on a computer screen, the dream becomes unintelligible.

Something like this happens when astrology is interred in the mechanistic paradigm and subjected to statistical analysis. Because mechanism is incompatible with astrology, astrology becomes unintelligible. Paradigm is critical. Accordingly, this article explores how the theory of astrology is intelligible within an organic paradigm, but not in a mechanistic one. It follows that methods utilized for investigating astrology need to be consistent with the organic worldview. 

At the heart of the matter is the difference between modern, quantitative methods of analysis and postmodern, qualitative methods. My position is that quantitative or statistical research does violence to our subject matter—astrology—and that no matter how powerful or “modern” the method might be, it derives from a paradigm that excludes astrology on principle.

Because the modern experimental method is intrinsically hostile to astrology it is unlikely to produce results that support our model. Conversely, postmodern science is compatible with new, qualitative methods of research that show great promise of not only vindicating the astrological hypothesis, but also of advancing knowledge in the field.

Astrological Research and The Problem of Credibility

Astrology hinges on the claim that there are regularly observable correlations between celestial and terrestrial phenomena. Chief among these correlations is the isomorphism of psyche and cosmos; that is, astrologers allege that psychic structure is revealed in the structure of the solar system at the moment of birth. There would seem to be no question that if such an assertion were true, astrology’s value would be enormous.

To have an instrument that details the invisible archetypal structure of the human psyche, that elucidates patterns of growth and development, that reveals the essential meaning of a particular experience or phase of life, that targets periods of crisis and shows their approximate duration, that facilitates empathy, that exposes the pervasive synchronicities that link subjective and objective reality, that strengthens and deepens spiritual understanding, and that provides such aesthetic pleasure that it has been described as the ultimate scientific art form, is high praise indeed.

Yet, among those professions where it could conceivably do the most good—medicine, psychiatry, psychotherapy and family counseling—astrology is conspicuously absent. It has virtually no place in our universities, is scorned by almost all branches of modern learning, and thought by many scientists to be mere charlatanism.

In the September 1975 issue of The Humanist magazine, a statement attacking and disavowing astrology was co-signed by 186 leading scientists, including 18 Nobel Prize laureates. Once considered the divine art and a study worthy of such names as Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, astrology has been effectively reduced to what one scientist referred to as “absolute rubbish.”

The disrepute into which astrology has fallen among our culture’s academic and scientific elite con­trasts markedly with the exalted status astrology en­joys in the eyes of those who champion it. It is a curi­ous almost schizoid split in the collective psyche. How can we account for the discrepancy between the abysmally low status of astrology and the phenomenal claims its exponents make for it?

I believe that the answer to this puzzle lies in the notion of paradigm. In the mechanistic paradigm of modern science, it is widely assumed that the method for demonstrating the validity of a hypothesis is the experimental method. But it was precisely the empirical and quantitative methods of modern science that led to the repudiation of astrology in the 17th century—not because such methods disproved astrology, but because application of the experimental method forced astrology into a theoretical straightjack­et from which it could not ex­tricate itself.

Empirical science is based on certain metaphysical assumptions that prevent one from see­ing any truths except those that fall within the purview of its method. But astrology does not conform to this way of knowing. Thus its truths are either invisible or appear to be disconfirmed. So long as astrologers be­lieve that the only way to vindicate their model is via the experimental method of mechanistic science, they are caught in a Catch-22: astrology must conform to the experimental method to be accepted, but the ex­perimental method is intrinsically incompatible with astrology.

Fortunately there is an alternative paradigm within which to view and test astrological truth claims. This is the organic paradigm of pre-scientific cultures that today is reemerging under the heading of “postmodern science.” In recent years, there has been a fairly radical shift in the philosophy of science that is enabling practitioners to embrace truths that a cen­tury ago seemed magical. The significance of this cannot be overstated, for it was out of the magical, organic worldview of pre-scientific cultures that as­trology grew and flourished.

It is my contention that wider acceptance and openness to astrology is more likely to come from a paradigm shift rather than from experimental science within the old paradigm. This new, emerging paradigm is not only capable of pro­viding a climate of understanding that is hospitable to astrology, but of providing alternative methods of in­quiry that are in accord with the type of knowledge that astrology professes.

The Importance of Paradigm

To appreciate why modern statistical methods are inappropriate for astrological research, it is necessary to understand the paradigm from which they derive. A paradigm can be defined as the dominant “worldview” of a culture. It is essentially a constellation of con­cepts and theories that together form a particular vi­sion of reality. Within the context of a given para­digm, certain values and practices are shared that be­come the basis for the way the community organizes itself. A paradigm, in short, is a system of beliefs that binds a culture together.

Thomas Kuhn (1970), in his classic The Structure of Scientif­ic Revolutions, ex­plains that a paradigm is a shared set of beliefs or working premises that “for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitio­ners” (p. x).

Invariably, however, there are certain kinds of prob­lems and problem solving methods that fall outside the boundaries of a given paradigm. “A paradigm,” notes Kuhn, “need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it can be con­fronted” (p. 18). In effect, a paradigm is like a filter that not only colors the data which enter (i.e., giving it a particular interpreta­tion), but even determines which kinds of data enter.

While a paradigm helps us to see some things, it also blinds us to other things—those things that would not make sense within that interpretive framework. A researcher never has independent access to reality. The character of one’s knowledge and the categories according to which experience is formed are functions of the paradigm one has inherited. As Wittgenstein (1968) pointed out, one can only look through the opaque spectacles of the cognitive apparatus of one’s historically conditioned worldview. The belief that our theories provide a correct and true description of real­ity is a projection. It would be more accurate to say that our theories construct a reality that works for us.

The best example is the mechanistic paradigm that has dominated western culture for the past two centuries. Within the context of this paradigm, fantastic techno­logical and medical advances have taken place. Yet, in our attempts to reduce reality to its material substrate a whole range of phenomena that cannot be under­stood in mechanistic terms have either been ignored or explained away—creativity, freedom, purposiveness, intuition, clairvoyance, precognition, telepathy and astrology.

According to Kuhn (1970), once a paradigm is accepted and provides workable solutions to various puzzles, the paradigm can “insulate the community from those socially important problems that are not reducible to the puzzle form, because they cannot be stated in terms of the conceptual and instrumental tools that the paradigm supplies” (p. 37). When anomalous findings start to emerge in the course of studies within a paradigm, the implications of such anomalies are at first resisted. They are dismissed as probable errors, fabrications, exaggerations, or are simply labeled as “anomalies” that do not fit into the formal framework and can be safely set aside until they do.

Kuhn explains: “By insuring that the para­digm will not be too easily surrendered, resistance guarantees that scien­tists will not be lightly distracted and that the anomalies that lead to paradigm change will penetrate existing knowl­edge to the core” (p. 55). Astrology, of course, is one of those anomalies that are not reducible to the puzzle form, cannot be under­stood in terms of the concepts that the mechanistic paradigm supplies, and that may well penetrate exist­ing knowledge to the core. Accordingly, I believe that astrology is resisted precisely because its acceptance would drive a stake into the heart of the mechanistic paradigm.

Core Principles of the Mechanistic Paradigm

In the 17th century the founders of modern sci­ence—Bacon, Descartes, Newton, and Galileo—con­ceived of reality as like a machine. Accordingly, the paradigm that has come to dominate western culture has been called mechanistic. Early researchers discov­ered that many aspects of reality could be broken down into their functional parts and then put back together again, just like a machine. Such an exercise revealed how things worked. This implied (and re­quired) that anything “real” be viewed as having ma­chine-like properties.

The essence of mechanism was the belief that all “natural” phenomena can be under­stood through reference to laws of matter in motion. Matter could be reduced to minute particles, separate in space, independent of one another, and devoid of any sentience or capacity for self-move­ment. It was thought that motion was conveyed through empty space only by way of direct contact or through a series of direct contacts between material units. In short, mechanism promised to account for physical phenom­ena by way of a single, unitary principle—matter in motion.

It was Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who argued most vociferously that the primary qualities of the Universe were physical and mathematical. The pri­mary doctrine of Cartesianism was the division of re­ality between mind (res cogitans), the essence of which is thinking, and matter (res extensa), the es­sence of which is extension in three dimensions.

By isolating mind from the rest of reality, science was free to deal with a pure res extensa untainted with the nonmathematical characters of being. By implication, that which was not extended and measurable involved the entire domain of mental and spiritual reality. It was not simply mind that was split off from matter, but God as well; i.e., mind and God constituted a separate ontologi­cal status.

While early science was carried out in the frame­work of a dualistic supernaturalism in which the soul and God were assigned explanatory functions and hence causal power, the success of the mechanistic approach in physics soon led to the conviction that it should be applied to all of reality. God was first stripped of all causal power save that of the original creation of the world; later thinkers turned this deism into complete atheism.

Likewise, the status of human consciousness was gradually reduced in direct pro­portion to the conquests of materialist science. In the 18th century, the mind was regarded as “epiphenome­nal,” which meant that it was a real phenomenon, but only as an effect, not a cause. Ultimate­ly, its status as a distinct entity was eliminated entirely and it was declared to be simply one of the brain’s emergent properties. This is known as the “psycho-neural iden­tity thesis” – the belief that mind is simply a word used to describe the biochemistry of neuronal mecha­nisms.

In effect, the mechanistic paradigm is materialistic at its core. There is the implicit assumption that noth­ing that lacks a material component exists. Griffin (1988) notes that the disenchantment of the world is both a result and a presupposition of modern science. By “disenchantment” he means the denial to nature of any subjectivity, experience, feeling, or purpose.

Or­thodox science, says Griffin, can only be applied to that which has been disenchanted, which means deanimated. To deanimate is to remove all anima or soul in the Platonic sense of a self-moving thing that determines itself, at least partly, in pursuit of particu­lar values. From a strict scientific perspective, then, humankind can only be under­stood in purely imper­sonal terms, as embodying no creativity, no self-de­termination, and nothing that could be considered di­vine.

The metaphysic of modern science was also de­terministic in that there was the explicit claim that all events, including moral choices, are completely deter­mined by previously existing causes. This meant that causation was exclusively material via direct physical contact. No element of internal self-causation (“free will”) was possible, nor could there be downward cau­sation from an alleged higher source—planetary, god­like, or spiritual.

This presumption radically undercut any basis for understanding the astrological relationship between celestial and terrestrial events. If astrology could not be explained in terms of scientific determinism, then it became unintelligible, a spurious system of belief wedded to an ousted paradigm.

At the time of its conception, mechanism pre­sented a powerful challenge to the organic worldview of pre-scientific Europe. Whereas mechanists con­ceived of the universe as a lifeless machine, medieval “natural philosophers” thought the universe was more akin to a living organism. In fact, this was the primor­dial worldview that in one form or another prevailed in all places at all times dating back to primitive humans.

Ancient cultures viewed the world as an enchanted garden in which some sort of Universal Consciousness or “world soul” was immanent in all the parts and processes of nature. Virtually everything was alive and connected by sympathetic resonances. This was called animism, the belief that all things in nature were ensouled and animated by an indwelling, spiri­tual presence. Little souls were nested within the big soul, psyches within Psyche. Events did not happen randomly, but were manifestations of an omniscient and intentional consciousness infinitely diffused throughout existence.

Because the cosmos was a great hierarchy of Being, nothing was separate and every living thing belonged to the one life that flowed through all things. Accordingly, an event could be understood by inferring its divine purpose or function in a meaningful world. Astrology was central to this conception because it not only presented a unifying vision in which everything cohered, but also provided a symbolic language for understanding the various meanings and correspondences of natural phenomena.

By the end of the 18th century the educated per­son lived in a universe that was effectively dead, hav­ing been constructed and set in motion by a transcen­dent (not immanent) Deity, with all subsequent events accounted for by mechanical interactions and rational laws. Such a universe was static and purposeless since God was thought to have no further intentions beyond that of his original creation. In fact, any assumption of purpose in the natural world was considered naively anthropo­centric, a projection of human subjectivity onto the world of nature.

The notion of consciousness as immanent in matter was lost as a consequence of the Cartesian splitting of spirit and matter. It was pre­cisely this splitting that provided the justification for the all-out mechanical materialism of modern science. From this point forward, the God-concept was arbi­trarily limited to its transcendent aspect, while the immanence of deity was either forgotten or eliminated. This meant that macrocosm and microcosm, cosmos and psyche, were no longer linked by resonant bonds of vibratory frequencies that united heaven and earth.

Since mechanism explicitly denied that natural things had any inherent power to attract other things, planets could in no way influence or correspond to human affairs. The desire to rule out the possibility of action-at-a-distance was, in fact, the main motivation behind the mechanical philosophy (Easlea, 1980). Mechanists declared that there were no hidden (“occult”) proper­ties in matter, no soul, no intelligence, no purpose, no capacity for self-movement, and certainly no capacity to influence or respond to the movements of distant bodies. Effects were explained entirely by reference to antecedent causes, and these causes in the final analy­sis had to be physical.

The rejection of action-at-a-distance in favor of action-by-contact explanations was based on the re­placement of all organismic and psycho-spiritual ex­planations with mechanical ones. At the heart of the mechanistic vision was the denial that natural things had any hidden (occult) powers to attract other things. Psyche and cosmos were in no way alike; they did not correspond, nor were they linked by sympathetic reso­nance.

This took the magic out of nature. The universe was stripped of any qualities with which the human spirit could feel a sense of kinship. Even when it is conceded that human subjective experience involves purposiveness, the fact that science claims the Uni­verse is purposeless results in the alienation of hu­mans from nature. A dualism is conferred: humans are alive and purposive, the rest of the universe is a gi­gantic corpse in mechanical motion.

The primary dualism of modern science was the splitting of spirit from matter. Other dualisms, such as the mind-body split and the psyche-cosmos split fol­lowed logically from this original sundering. In effect, this was sci­ence’s “original sin” – the aspiration to know all of reality while simultaneously denying the reality of that which lies outside the province of its method.

Within the context of the mechanistic para­digm, astrology must be considered either a fabrica­tion or an anomaly; that is, either its proponents are fraudulent or astrology constitutes such a radical de­parture from normative knowledge that it is simply considered too strange to investigate. The point is that astrology has been rejected by modern science not because it has been disproved but because in principle it should not work. Astrology simply does not fit into the kind of universe that materialistic science envisages.

Summary and Preview

Since the 17th century, the mechanistic paradigm has been the dominant worldview of western civiliza­tion. Because mechanism explicitly denies the possi­bility of action-at-a-distance, the immanence of divin­ity, or downward causation, astrology was rejected on principle. In effect, astrology was repudiated not be­cause it was disproved, but because it became unin­telligible when viewed within the arbitrary constraints of the modern worldview.

Astrology is wedded to the organic paradigm that science radically displaced. Organicism holds that the world is ensouled by an indwelling, spiritual presence that is immanent throughout the hierarchies of existence. Each human being is a microcosm—a miniature universe—re­flecting the macrocosm, the Universe as a whole. Within the context of this view, astrology is intelligi­ble for it provides a way of understanding how micro­cosm and macrocosm are related.

In the next chapter, we will explore the epistemol­ogy of the mechanistic para­digm—the experimental method—and the conse­quences of its misapplication in astrological research. I will argue that the experi­mental method is inherently unsuitable for astrological research and is unlikely to provide support for the as­trological hypothesis.

My argument hinges upon six interrelated factors: the meaning of any part of the chart can only be under­stood in the context of its rela­tions with the whole; personality is an emergent prop­erty and cannot be re­duced to a part of the chart; the meaning of chart symbols contain an inescapable am­biguity; astrologi­cal phenomena are synchronistic; astrological causation is circular and teleological; and the horo­scope symbolizes an open, evolving, indeter­minate system.

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References

Easlea, B. (1980). Witch hunting, magic and the new philosophy: An introduction to debates of the sci­entific revolution 1450-1750. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.

Griffin, D.R. (1988). Introduction: The reenchantment of science. In D.R. Griffin (Ed.), The reenchant­ment of science (pp. 1-46). Albany, NY: State Uni­versity of New York Press.

Kuhn, T. (1970). The structure of scientific revolu­tions (2nd ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (1968). Philisophical investigations (3rd ed.), (G.E.M Anscombe, Trans.). New Yor

 

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