Drawing Down the Heavens
AstroPsychology as Grounded Theory
By Glenn Perry
In this article, I examine the origins of astrology as an outcome of inductive and deductive reasoning. Whereas inductive logic arrives at conclusions on the basis of concrete data, deductive logic predicts concrete outcomes on the basis of established principles. The danger of overreliance on deduction in astrology is that it can lead our field into a solipsistic, self-referential dead end―a closed system that fails to evolve. AstroPsychology may be a corrective to this trend in that it is a hybrid model grounded in data that derives from ongoing research across disciplines.
Astrology from its inception has been based on data that correlates human experience to celestial movements. For example, if individuals born within thirty days following the vernal equinox were consistently observed to be more courageous than average, early astrologers logically concluded that Sun in Aries correlates to courage as a personality attribute. This is inductive reasoning.
However, once the general meanings of astrological variables were established―meanings of signs, planets, houses and so forth―practitioners were able to deduce probable outcomes from planetary positions. Deductive reasoning is the basis for the predictive dimension of astrology, reasoning from the general to the specific. If a particular configuration occurs, we can deduce its meaning (outcome) from time-honored principles of interpretation.
In doing so, however, there is a tendency to perpetuate a certain type and level of understanding―that is, to see what we have grown accustomed to seeing, to ask the same old questions and arrive at the same old answers. For a theory to evolve, there must be a willingness to depart from deductive reasoning that presumes a particular outcome on the basis of established principles. Even when correct, a deductive approach to knowledge tends to perpetuate the very theory that generates its predictions.
Conversely, an inductive approach to knowledge is rooted in whatever further data can be gleaned from a topic. Rather than predict, the goal is simply to observe, but with new eyes and fresh questions that probe ever deeper into the phenomenon under study. An evolving theory should be open to new data from which a more comprehensive understanding can emerge. Inductive reasoning is the essence of grounded theory as a research methodology.
AstroPsychology as grounded theory implies a model derived from inductive logic, which is reasoning from the specific to the general. Again, you begin with some data, and then determine what general conclusion(s) can logically be derived from that data. Having Jupiter in Capricorn, I prefer my theoretical formulations about astrology to be as grounded as possible in tangible evidence. While my library has burgeoned to dangerous proportions―threatening to spill out into every room of the house―I must admit my thinking has been more influenced by client work than books. Of course, both are indispensable, but one advantage of working with clients in the slow, painstaking way that psychotherapy allows is that you get to see astrology up close in real time, like a botanist observing the unhurried, almost imperceptible movement of a flower unfolding its petals. After four decades of watching clients struggle, grow, and evolve, my understanding of astrology has changed.
Although I was a professional astrologer before becoming a psychotherapist, it always seemed to me that the two fields had much to offer one another. Both focus on human behavior; yet, astrology provides a language for disclosing connections between inner and outer realms of experience that goes far beyond anything psychology has to offer. At the same time, psychology offers new concepts and a methodological rigor that has broadened, deepened, and sharpened my understanding of astrological symbols. In short, I have tried to look at both fields with new eyes and fresh questions. The ongoing work of synthesis warrants a name, “AstroPsychology”. But what exactly does this mean?
A definition of AstroPsychology should start with a brief history of the term. Although astrology as generally practiced can be traced back to the first century B.C.E., its latest mutation―psychological astrology―occurred at the turn of the 20th century in response to three events. First, positivist science was at its peak and there was little tolerance for archaic systems like astrology that did not fit into the reigning mechanistic paradigm. Traditional, event-oriented astrology had come under increasing legal scrutiny, and astrologers actually risked arrest for making predictions. Focus on personality description was more acceptable, however, and so enabled astrologers to continue practicing with relative impunity.
Second, the theosophical movement that began during the latter half of the 19th century was in full swing and many of its leaders were astrologically literate, including Alice Bailey and Alan Leo. Because Theosophy addressed the spiritual, subjective realm of being—that is, psyche—Buddhist and Hindu ideas concerning karma, reincarnation, and growth of soul were incorporated into astrology.
And third, the new discipline of psychoanalysis was becoming increasingly popular during the opening decades of the 20th century. Given that astrology and psychoanalysis both sought to explain human behavior, astrologers were naturally drawn to the deeper, interior realm of psyche that Freud and his followers were beginning to articulate.
Together, these three factors launched a new kind of astrology that came to be known as psychological astrology. Its most noteworthy exponents were Alan Leo, Charles E. O. Carter, and Marc Edmond Jones. At the beginning of the movement, psychological astrology was little more than superficial descriptions of behavior, albeit in greater detail than typically occurred with traditional astrology. Toward the middle of the century, however, Dane Rudhyar began introducing Jungian and humanistic ideas into the field with an increasing emphasis upon the human capacity for growth and change.
By the 1970’s, the incomparable Richard Idemon began using the term “AstroPsychology” to differentiate his brand of Jungian oriented astrology from other practitioners. In Europe, the Swiss astrologer, Bruno Huber, also adopted the term, but with different meaning. Our work at the Academy of AstroPsychology can be seen as an evolution of Richard’s, though it has little in common with the Huber school.1
A New Personality Theory
Most of psychological astrology in the 20th century could be characterized as a mish-mash of humanistic and Jungian ideas without any formal structure. As such, it never developed into a systematic, full blown personality theory. Different authors made noteworthy contributions; yet, no single contribution reached the level of a personality theory in the tradition of a formal, psychological model. According to Hall and Lindzey’s classic tome, Theories of Personality, any adequate theory of personality should accomplish the following minimal objectives:2
- It must be comprehensive, or integrative, in that it deals with the total, functioning person.
- It must account for what motivates the human being.
- It must contain a set of empirical definitions concerning the various parts of the personality, thus permitting observation.
- It must consist of a network of assumptions about behavior that are systematically related in accordance with certain rules.
- It must be useful in that it is capable of generating predictions about behavior that are testable and verifiable, thus expanding knowledge.
Again, astrologers have made little if any attempt to meet the foregoing objectives in an explicit, systematic way. Yet anyone familiar with astrology knows that it implicitly meets all these requirements. Astrology is comprehensive in that it is concerned with all the parts and processes that make up the human psyche. The signs of the zodiac symbolize the basic drives that motivate human conduct, and their planetary rulers constitute parts of psychic structure that can be empirically defined, thus permitting observation. Rules of chart interpretation—chart synthesis—represent a network of assumptions about behavior that are systematically related. Finally, astrology is useful in that it is capable of generating predictions that are verifiable, thus promoting research and expanding knowledge.
For these reasons, a primary objective at the Academy of AstroPsychology has been to develop astrology into a comprehensive model of the psyche—an astrological theory of personality, if you will—that explicitly meets all of Hall and Lindzey’s criteria.3 As a meta-model, AstroPsychology cannot be defined in terms of any particular theory, but rather synthesizes a variety of ideas from different perspectives, including psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, Jungian/archetypal, object relations, humanistic, transpersonal, and general systems theory. It also utilizes information derived from developmental psychology and various spiritual traditions that emphasize the evolution of soul within an overarching, reincarnational framework. Rules for chart synthesis are explicitly formulated that allow for precision of meaning at a psychodynamic level while also allowing that astrological archetypes can manifest outwardly in a variety of ways. Particular stress is placed on the birthchart as symbolizing a developmental process that is expressed and experienced differently over time.
While ancient astrology roughly described how human behavior correlated to planetary positions, these descriptions were limited to surface features of the personality. In contrast, AstroPsychology plumbs the depths of soul and does so in terms that did not even exist prior to the 20th century. Basic needs, psychological functions, affect states, intrapsychic conflict, internal dialogues, unconscious complexes, defense mechanisms, pathogenic beliefs, personality disorders, developmental stages, and the gradual but inexorable movement toward self-actualization are all explained with the framework of AstroPsychology. Students do not need any background in psychology to understand these concepts, for they are seamlessly interwoven with astrology. In sum, this is what distinguishes AstroPsychology from psychological astrology in general: its broad, inclusive structure, emphasis on development, systematic precision, depth of focus, and spiritual import.
Perhaps the single most defining attribute of AstroPsychology is its focus on integrating the birth chart and, thus, supporting the human potential for growth and change. Integration can be defined as the process of developing, differentiating, and coordinating personality components into a functional unity. Emphasis on integration is grounded in research that suggests the very purpose of human life—if not all life—is to evolve into more complex states until individuals recognize their at-one-ment with source. As the philosopher Manly Hall put it, “Man can think of his own life either as the fulfillment of himself, or as the gradual completion of a greater existence of which he is a part and with which he is indissolvably associated.”4
The Significance of Events
While AstroPsychology by definition is psychological, it also honors the importance of external events. Every variable in the chart has both a subjective and objective meaning, which implies that inner and outer reflect one another in an acausal, synchronistic way. As such, neither determines the other in a linear sense; rather, the relationship is circular. Psyche—that complex of attributes experienced as thought, feeling, and will—impacts the environment which, in turn, reacts upon the person in a continuous interactive cycle. Psyche is both a cause of, and response to, environmental conditions; we are defined and refined by our relations with the outside world.
If psyche encompasses its relations with the environment, then consciousness is non-local and what we call “fate” may actually be soul concretized through experience over time. This is what the birth chart seems to symbolize—an exteriorization of the soul’s pattern in terms of physiology, personality, and environment. Every meaningful experience is a synchronistic reflection of a pre-potent psychic structure that evolves by processing the event-consequences of its own internal states. This alone makes AstroPsychology unique as a personality theory.
The non-local, evolutionary nature of consciousness further implies that birthcharts do not depict a static character and unalterable fate. Rather, the horoscope symbolizes an unfolding process (soul) that learns, develops, and expresses itself at higher, more integrated levels over time.
Given that AstroPsychology is non-deterministic, its approach to forecasting warrants further comment. Over the last several decades, psychological astrology has been characterized as lacking sufficient focus on concrete, external events. Its seeming indifference to prediction rendered it vulnerable to criticism by practitioners who believed astrology’s primary function is (or should be) foreknowledge of the future. Also, if psychological astrologers do not have to predict empirical events, they are insulated from any kind of disproof mechanism. Statements about the inner world cannot be evaluated for accuracy with the same rigor as statements about the outer world. Accordingly, 20th century psychological astrology drifted into a fuzzy, vague, shoot-from-the-hip approach that made it suspect in the eyes of serious scholars.5
AstroPsychology strives to remedy this problem. Again, while its primary focus is the psyche, there is also a keen interest in external events—not merely to predict them for their own sake, but to discern their significance as evolutionary drivers. An evolutionary driver is an event that serves as a catalyst and vehicle for a developmental process. As a catalyst, it triggers a shift in the native’s thinking and behavior that empowers him or her to meet a situation more effectively. And as a vehicle, it provides exactly the right type of situation—whether in marriage, career, health, or otherwise—to serve a corrective or educative purpose.
Understanding the significance of outer events enables astrologers to discuss them with clients in ways that support a natural, evolutionary process, for the event in question will always reflect a key configuration in the birthchart, whether natally or by transit/progression. When clients gain insight into what a situation means and requires from a growth oriented perspective, they are better able to consciously evolve; that is, intentionally collaborate with the cosmos toward realization of their full potential.
Another reason that events are important is that they provide a barometer for measuring the native’s level of functionality in a particular area of life. In other words, they serve a diagnostic function. If, for example, a woman with Neptune conjunct Mars in Scorpio in the 7th house consistently marries alcoholic, abusive men who exploit her financially, this is an important indication that she has significant work to do in the area of partnerships. On the other hand, if she enjoys a stable marriage with a man with whom she sets up a joint therapy practice that specializes in helping undifferentiated, low functioning couples in crisis, then this is an indicator that she is expressing that same configuration at a higher, more integrated level. Both outcomes equally express the same configuration.
The question arises as to whether either outcome could be predicted. From the perspective of AstroPsychology, predicting specific outcomes is a guessing game of dubious merit even when the guess turns out to be correct. First, as the above example illustrates, a given configuration can be expressed at different levels of integration; thus, predicting outcomes is problematic—especially in the absence of historical knowledge about the person for whom one is predicting. Second, and more importantly, foreknowledge of an event is unhelpful if there is no understanding of the event’s significance as a vehicle for a specific kind of developmental process. What can be predicted, however, is the process that underlies the particulars of the event.
By “process” I mean the underlying needs and psychological functions of the configuration that serve as generative matrix for the event. Consider, for example, a client who has Sun conjunct Venus in Pisces in the 10th square Mars in Sagittarius in the 7th (see Figure 1). As a nurse, she is constantly encountering unruly, self-righteous others who insist that she immediately comply with their demands. In other words, her 7th house relationships are characterized by an outspoken and aggressive Mars in Sagittarius, which she is projecting. As a result, she identifies with her Venus-Sun in Pisces at the expense of her Mars. She is kind, loving, and compassionate, but frequently feels like a victim of other’s selfish aggression. As an event-pattern, her experience can be understood in terms of the level of integration she’s expressing with regard to the square.
Figure 1: Sun conjunct Venus square Mars
As a process, each planet in the configuration signifies a basic need and behavioral action—to express oneself and fulfill self-esteem needs (Sun), to engage others and satisfy needs for social relations (Venus), and to act in one’s own self-interest for the sake of freedom and survival (Mars). These planetary processes are colored by the signs they tenant, and unfold in the context of the houses they occupy. The square signifies an intrapsychic conflict that requires containment in awareness of the respective processes so they can be effectively coordinated. To the extent this conflict remains unconscious and unresolved, defenses like repression and projection will assure that troubling events occur without her having any awareness of her own role in bringing them about.
From an astrological perspective, however, we can see not only the quality of events that are likely to occur, but their meaning and purpose as well. We might infer that the event-pattern of aggressive others impinging upon our kindly nurse is occurring for the sake of arousing her own Mar’s function to awareness so that it can be more fully integrated with her Venus-Sun. Fire has to be fought with fire, but tempered with fairness (Venus) and honor (Sun) that expresses compassion (Pisces) toward her offenders while also asserting clear limits (Mars). To the degree that she is able to rise to the challenge that her circumstances dictate, both her relationships (7th) and career (10th) will improve.
A single event might encapsulate the pattern. That is, it can reflect the underlying process and provide a vehicle for its further integration. Imagine that when the configuration is activated by a transit our sensitive client has to contend with intrusive demands by a high-minded nurse with whom she is partnering in a ward for accident victims. Such an outcome would reflect the astrological variables involved in her natal square. But any number of other events can serve the process just as well. Accordingly, predicting concrete events is secondary to knowing the abstract function they serve. Prediction is important, but not as an early warning system to advise clients in taking evasive or exploitive action; rather, prediction can be utilized as a means of supporting the client in meeting life’s opportunities and challenges with the proper attitude. By understanding the underlying purpose of a given period, clients are better able to actualize the potential for growth inherent in the time.
De-emphasis on predicting concrete events is also in keeping with the multidimensionality, intra-dimensional variability, and polyvalence of astrological archetypes. An astrological variable is multidimensional in the sense that it can symbolize multiple dimensions of meaning both within and without. For example, Mars can signify a basic need (survival), psychological function (assertion), state of mind (excitement), and behavioral trait (bold), while also representing an external character (rival), place (racetrack), thing (weapon), or event (competition). Within any of these dimensions there is intra-dimensional variability. As an event, for instance, Mars could also be an argument, a new beginning, or simply an adventure. Finally, astrological archetypes are polyvalent in that they combine with other variables—signs, houses, and aspects—which shape and modify their expression in countless ways.
With regard to polyvalence, a configuration such as a planetary aspect involves multiple signs, planets, and houses. As such, it constitutes a higher-level system that exerts regulative control over its component parts. The aspect constrains, shapes, and modifies the functioning of the parts so that they comply with the objectives of the higher-level system. Although every component has multiple possible expressions, each is swept up in the structure of the psychic form it helps to comprise; thus, from the myriad potential expressions of each part, each particular expression is selected and coordinated to form a single, coherent, relatively integrated holistic pattern, much like a family exerts regulative control upon its members to comply with the values and objectives of the family as a whole. Without such downward causation, the internal world of the psyche would be a teeming, buzzing chaos.
Astrology’s enormous flexibility as a language means there is an inescapable ambiguity and indeterminacy to birthcharts. One cannot reliably determine concrete particulars from a system that is inherently indeterminate. This underscores why predicting process—the purpose and meaning of a time period—not only is of greater value than guessing outcomes, it is also more in accord with what is actually possible. Purpose and meaning occur at a higher level of abstraction than concrete particulars; or, stated in the reverse, different manifestations of a configuration can have the same or similar meaning.
For example, imagine two individuals with identical charts—one a Catholic priest and the other a white supremacist—both of whom have transiting Jupiter conjuncting Pluto Scorpio in the 9th opposing Mars Taurus in the 3rd (see Figure 2). Separate events occur that are personally relevant to each. In the first, the Catholic priest is accused of sodomizing a young boy in his congregation but is protected from prosecution by the archbishop of his province. In the second, a prejudiced Alabama court acquits the white supremacist who is being tried for blowing up a black church and maiming a little girl. Concretely, the events seem different; yet, at a higher level of abstraction, each incident constitutes an injustice in which a powerful but corrupt moral authority—the archbishop and Alabama court—exonerates a perpetrator who has violated a victim in a church.
Figure 2: Transiting Jupiter conjunct Pluto in the 9th
Although the particular outcome in each case is not predictable, astrology allows us to surmise the meaning of the period independent of the events that occur. The outcome was fortunate for the perpetrators, which correlates to the Jupiter transit, but fortunate in the context of a heinous act symbolized by Pluto Scorpio in the 9th opposing Mars Taurus in the 3rd. One might infer from the variables involved that the purpose of such a transit is for the perpetrators to reflect upon the moral implications of their violent crimes. Although each escapes punishment, we should not assume that such injustice has no value as a learning experience. The extent to which our pedophile priest and racial bigot mend their ways will be tested by the next major transit to the same configuration. If it is Saturn, they might not be so lucky. The upshot is that the outcome of a transit might not be knowable in advance, but its meaning and purpose can be.
Summary & Conclusion
Psychological astrology began in the 20th century in concert with cultural developments that set the stage for the emergence of a new type of astrology. While early formulations tended to be vague, imprecise, and overly focused on behavioral traits, AstroPsychology presents a highly structured, coherent system that not only reveals the intrapsychic world with unprecedented depth, clarity and precision, but is equally mindful of the circular feedback relations that occur between inner and outer reality.
AstroPsychology recognizes the importance of events as vehicles and catalysts for a developmental process; yet, also accepts the radical indeterminacy of outcomes and thus the futility of predicting events if incognizant of their significance as evolutionary drivers. By stressing the abstract meaning of events over their concrete form, individuals are empowered to consciously cooperate with an evolutionary imperative at the heart of the cosmos.
A prime objective at the Academy of AstroPsychology has been to develop astrology into a theory of personality that is both rigorous and flexible. The purpose of this effort is not merely to gain acceptance for astrology within the field of psychology, but for the inherent value of building a cutting edge, cogent model that subsumes and integrates relevant concepts from different traditions and thereby advances our understanding of what it means to be human.
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1 This article is abstracted from Perry, G. An Introduction to AstroPsychology. Haddam Neck, CT: AAP Press, 2012.
2 Hall, C., & Lindzey, G. (1978). Theories of personality. New York: John Wiley & Sons
3 The Academy of AstroPsychology offers online classes in astrology as a personality theory, developmental model, and diagnostic/prognostic tool. www.astropsychology.org
4 Hall, M.P. (1954). The essential nature of consciousness. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society
5 Hand, R. Toward a Postmodern Astrology. Published at www.astro.com, cited September 1, 2014. http://www.astro.com/astrology/in_postmodern_e.htm