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.
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
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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.