Thursday, December 26, 2013


MOBILE ASTROLOGER: I think it’s time for another UK tour. If any of you would like me to do some astrology readings your way in say Feb or March, let me know. I can do as few as 2 readings if you’re on my route. I’m low maintenance – I can sleep in my 4x4 – I just need a room to do the readings in. And I'm always affordable.

Monday, December 09, 2013

How Astrology Works Part 1: Making Room for Astrology

There’s a joke about Wikipedia, which says that the problem is that it only works in practice. The same may be said about astrology. Every astrologer probably has their own theory, if they have one at all, about how it works. What we do know is that astrology is not a science, not in the modern meaning of the word. If you try and pin it down in that sort of way, it’ll probably stop working, offended at what you are trying to do with it.

Astrologers can provide stories rather than mechanisms about how their craft works. Much like things were 1000 years ago, when if you were asked how the world came into existence, you’d have said well God made it of course. And that was enough for people, and why shouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t a story that is imaginatively appealing be enough? Even today, with our modern explanation of how it all came about – the Big Bang – at the heart of it you have something coming out of nothing. That isn’t a mechanism, that is a story, it has magic in it. Something out of nothing, who would have thought it?

A couple of the ancient Greek Creation Myths have a similar starting point. In their cases it was Chaos. In one story we read: “In the beginning Eurynome, the Goddess of all things, rose naked from Chaos.  She found nothing substantial to rest her feet upon, so she divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves. She danced to the south, and the wind set in motion behind her seemed something new and apart with which to begin a work of creation.”

Now I find that more imaginatively appealing than the Big Bang story, because from the beginning the universe is alive. It is not just a bunch of hot particles that have to wait billions of years for that incidental phenomenon, life, to appear. No, life is there from the word go in the form of the goddess of all things, Eurynome. And that, in my view, makes it closer to the reality of things than the Big Bang story.

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As an astrologer, you experience all the time the intermingling of inner and outer, above and below, life and matter. On the final day of Uranus’ transit through Pisces, on 11 March 2011, there was a tsunami in Japan. The next day, with Uranus on its first day in Aries, a nuclear power plant exploded in Japan as a result of the tsunami.

I don’t think I need to unwrap the symbolism. It was one of those times when astrology describes events in the world with a raw, literal power. Awful as the events were for the Japanese people, for the astrologer they were a striking demonstration of the connections between heaven and earth. And people: at the moment of the explosion, Uranus was ½ a degree off an exact square to the Japanese Ascendant.

The ancient Greek Creation story continues, until we read: “Next, the goddess created the seven planetary powers, setting a Titan and Titaness over each…”

So there we have it. How does astrology work? It works due to the powers invested in the planets in ancient times by Eurynome, the goddess of all things. The planets have the names of Roman gods, but they were taken from the Greek – where for example, Hermes becomes Mercury. And, of course, modern western astrology has its roots in ancient Greek astrology.

As I said, every astrologer probably has their own theory/story about how astrology works. The above is just one story.

Traditional societies often have a number of Creation stories. The opening chapters of Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths are devoted to several of them.

I once asked a Chippewa Cree friend who is a story-teller if his people ever got fundamentalist about their Creation Myth, thinking of it as the way the world began, and he said no, that is because we have a number of stories, and they often conflict with one another!

So that is a very different mind-set to the one that, in the West, we have been used to for over one thousand years. A mind-set that says there is only one way that things are, and only one way that things began. That is a definition of fundamentalism, that there is only one reality.

Firstly we had it with Christianity, and now we have it with Science. That is not to say that all scientists are closed-minded and fundamentalist. Or indeed that all Christians are. Far from it. But built into the scientific method is the idea that things are only one way. If you have 2 theories – stories – then they are seen as competing, and sooner or later one of them must prevail. You can’t, for example, subscribe to both the steady state and the big bang stories of the origins of the universe. They are conflicting, and you can’t have that. I think well why not, they are both telling us different things about the cosmos, so let's have both.

I think there is something to be said for the American schools where they are required to teach both Creationism and Evolution. Let’s not get too hot under the collar about one of these being ‘nonsense’. If you’re reading this, you may well think that Creationism is nonsense. If you read Richard Milton’s Shattering the Myths of Darwinism, you will see how full of holes the theory of, and evidence for Evolution is. But that is not the point. In these schools, children are being taught two contradictory Creation myths, and in my opinion that can be very good for producing open-minded adults, who are able to consider alternative ways of seeing the world. Out of 2 closed systems has arisen something that, potentially at least, could be a good thing, and probably not what either of them intended.

So in this consideration of how astrology works, I want to get away from the mindset that says there is only one explanation for everything. We are deeply conditioned to think like that – previous generations, after all, have been trained that way for over one thousand years.

Once you think there is only one explanation, then the stories stop being stories and become literal events, set in stone, with little for the imagination to play on.

To insist on one explanation implies that the human mind is capable of grasping the whole truth. The universe is so large and complex, our brains are so small in comparison, how could this be possible? And even that which we do see and know is an interpretation provided by our brains at a very fundamental, deep-structure level. Up and down, me and you, time, left and right – all these structures we have for interpreting reality are contingent, they are created by the brain. They are useful, they work, but it means we need to put inverted commas around absolutely everything!

Three decades ago I read Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Sacks is a neurologist who had patients with brain disorders/injuries that affected their perception. You’d get patients, for example, who could tell you generally what something was – a playing card for example – but not that it was the Jack of Hearts. And you’d get patients with the reverse problem. Or ones who had lost the sense of left. So they’d do everything with the right hand side of their body. They would even eat the right hand half of what was on the plate, unaware of the left half, and then pull the plate round to the right and eat the right half of what was there. And so on.

Reading this book was a philosophically powerful experience, much more powerful for me than studying philosophical idealism, which posits that reality is mentally constructed. This book gave me an experience, as opposed to a mere mental awareness, of that philosophical position.

Of course, if we do see reality as just one way and as literal, then it provides a measure of certainty in an uncertain universe. And that is probably a perennial human tendency. It makes the big questions a whole lot easier, but also a whole lot less interesting. After you die you go to heaven or hell. After you die you are extinguished. These are both the same answer, in that they are providing certainty to a question that has no certain answers.

If you can live with metaphysical uncertainty, then the universe opens up. There is the sense of awe at just how mysterious place the cosmos is. As the biologist JBS Haldane said: “My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” And it leaves room for the Imagination to take seriously and delight in, for example, the story of Eurynome creating the world.

And it leaves room for astrology.

Monday, December 02, 2013

23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism

I’m reading 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism by Ha Joon Chang, a Cambridge Professor of Economics. He blames free market ideology for much of the world’s economic ills, and points out that the ‘free’ market isn’t really free, it’s just a relative term, because there are hundreds of rules, many of them political, around the market.

Since the West liberalised its trade and finance rules in the 80s, economic growth has slowed considerably compared to the period before. And sub-Saharan Africa, having been forced to open its borders to ‘free trade’, has seen its growth reduced to zero. Developing economies need to be protectionist in order to grow; the US and the UK were when they were building their industries.

What I like about the author’s style is that it is based in common sense rather than technicalities, and he says we can all make economic judgements. And he continually upends the received wisdoms, which as an Aquarian I like.

Here are a few more of his ‘Things’ as he calls them:

Companies should not be run in the interest of their owners

The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has

Greater macroeconomic stability has not made the world economy more stable

Governments can pick winners

Good economic policy does not require good economists

Ha Joon Chang doesn’t have a political agenda. His only agenda is what promotes the greatest economic growth, based on the evidence.
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I’d often wondered about the ‘free’ market, not just because it clearly has thousands of rules anyway, but also for the common sense reason (that the author doesn’t mention) that all areas of human collective activity need regulation or destructive things happen. Like we saw in 2008 with the mother of all financial crises. I’ve always thought that the people who want the internet unregulated are being na├»ve. Bad things happen there as well. And bad things happen through mobile phone technology unless governments keep an eye. And someone needs to keep an eye on governments because they will do bad things as well, like when they take necessary surveillance to excess.

The bigger question that Ha Joon Chang doesn’t address is why growth? And what is sustainable? Those are the real questions. We have more than enough to live on in the West, particularly if wealth was shared a bit more equitably, so why does the economy need to keep growing, even if the planet could sustain that? Do we earn to live or live to earn?

The planet needs sustainability. What humans need is the forgotten notion of sufficiency. An idea of what is enough, of there being a point at which our economic needs are met.

This is why recessions can be good things. During the recent one we still had enough to live on, particularly again if things could have been shared out better, but the feelgood factor of growth was not there, so we all felt a bit gloomy. But why do we need to feel gloomy if there is enough to live on? I think in this way recessions can get us to think about our values, about what is in a real sense important.

Economic growth has become the main yardstick by which we judge a nation’s health and happiness. Not the only one, but the main one. And it’s crazy when you think about it, that what gives the most meaning to our collective life is whether we are increasing the rate at which we produce more than we need to live on. As the Buddha said, “All worldlings are mad.” I don’t quite agree with him, and it has religious superiority in it, but he has a point.

As I went into in a previous piece, the US has not put in anywhere near the legislation needed to stop another financial crisis occurring, and has no intention of doing so. The banks, for example, have not been divided into separate retail and investment institutions, and they are even bigger and more complex than they were.

The managerial level of the financial industry has such a power over government that very little has happened in the wake of 2008. A classic example in the UK was that of Fred Goodwin, the head of RBS, a bank that went spectacularly bust and required a huge government bail-out. Yet Fred was allowed to walk away with his £17 million pension pot untouched. After a public outcry, he gave back £4 million of it and he lost his knighthood. And that was that. He kept his reward for failure.

I don’t know about other countries, but certainly the US and probably the UK governments were, and are, being held to ransom by their lightly regulated financial industries. Well, everyone knows that the US Congress is in the pocket of Wall St.

For the West, the financial meltdown of 2008, and its consequences, have been the main event of the Uranus-Pluto square, which still has some years, and several exact crossings, to run. Uranus brings sudden disruptive shocks that open up new possibilities. Pluto brings a death to the foundations of the old, and a chance to rebuild on new foundations.

This was what happened in the last Uranus-Pluto square in the early 30s. We had a similar financial crisis, and governments learned from it and brought in a load of regulations to stop it recurring, and it worked.

But this time we seem to have learned nothing. Well, we learned from the last time not to let the banks go under. But that seems to have been it.

Uranus-Pluto will always bring disruption and change at a fundamental level that takes some years to work through. And the old power base will either be destroyed and reborn ( as it was in the 30s) or the old will remain but strengthened, empowered.

So this is what I think is looking like the most important outcome for the West of this Uranus-Pluto square: an empowerment of the financial industry in essentially its old form, and a strengthening of its stranglehold over government. And the certainty of future financial crises and their destabilising effects on society at all levels.

It’s rather like Rome burning: a decadent West that has been wealthy for so long it takes it for granted, is gradually losing out to the BRIC and other countries. It has borrowed massively to conceal this, and is unable to rectify the situation because it is being run by the financial industry which is seeking its own short-term interests at the expense, if necessary, of the interests of the country.

This is particularly the case in the UK and the US, which are less financially regulated than other western countries, though in the UK the situation is mitigated by the disproportionately international nature of our financial industry, and the earnings that brings us.

But if you want a real conspiracy it is this: the bankers and hedge fund managers really are running the world – well, the US – and their grip is tightening. Pluto in Capricorn. And it’s not a secret cabal, they are just doing what any industry will do if it is allowed to: it will end up advancing its own interests at the expense of the country’s. It is a failure of government.

Goblin Bankers in Harry Potter
And remember, your average banker is not a ‘bad’ person, he’s just doing his or her job, and it is a necessary one. We need our financial industry. There are of course ‘bad guys’ there, but it essentially a collective thing that is going on, a herd thing, if you like. It is often just easier for us to have some stereotyped figures in our mind that we can blame things on. It is lazy, it is an excuse not to think or to be conscious.

Maybe it comes back to Democracy itself. You can’t imagine the Chinese allowing something like that to happen, despite all the bribery and nepotism that goes on. Their government is able to exert its will. Meanwhile the US government is famously paralysed. And if the US is not able to regulate its financial industry, then the rest of the West has to follow suit to a large degree.

The received wisdom has been that Democracy advances hand in hand with the progress of capitalism. And there is a certain truth in that, in that we see the Chinese government having a more open country gradually forced upon it. But maybe that is mainly the internet’s doing rather than wealth.

So these are the major changes that Uranus-Pluto seems to me, from our current standpoint, to be bringing about: a shift in power from the West to the East; the strengthening in the West of the power over government of the financial industries; and a consequent crisis of Democracy in the US.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Facebook Smorgasbord

I’ve recently been putting comments on the UK Professional Astrologers Facebook site. I’m not allowed to quote anyone else, but I can quote myself! So here are some of them:


To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there would only be one thing worse than astrology being derided by the ‘establishment’, which would be if they took it seriously! And regulated it, and set the canon in stone, and ironed out the misfits and so on. I value our craft being the subject of derision, it forces me continually to create for myself a worldview that can incorporate astrology, and to understand the cultural forces opposing it. We have a worthy opponent. Let us drink to that!


I was once told at a workshop that rectification is 'intellectually indefensible'. Which of course is true. It's a Dark Art, as I cheerfully refer to it. But I think it maybe also depends on your notion of what astrology is. Take the US Sibly Chart. A symbolic, rather than literal time is used, but it is held to be a valid chart because the methods used to generate it were traditional and sensitive to symbolism. And it works. That any chart works is due to symbolic rather than literal relationships between the planets and people/events. Astrology is primarily a symbolic rather than a literal/linear art. And because you are using symbols, even if you are using a chart that is not based on an accurate time – even quite an inaccurate one – the chart often has a way of working for that person/event, and more so over time.

Maybe if you do not have a sufficiently accurate birth time, an answer would be to create a symbolic chart, by for example putting the planet that rules the event on the Ascendant, which is a traditional method. Hence the Gemini Rising chart for the USA, which has revolutionary Uranus on the Ascendant. So if you or your mother nearly died when you were born, try a chart with Pluto on the Ascendant. Or if it was long and difficult, put Saturn there. Caesarean? Maybe surgical Mars. Or maybe focus on the atmosphere around the birth, maybe that is more important. An accident? Put Uranus there. The product of a great romance? Put Venus or Neptune there. It could be an interesting exercise in recreating the past.

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Below is my response to a favourable review of the Norwegian Existential Philosopher Zapffe, beginning with a quote from the review. I am interested by existentialism and existential psychotherapy, but I have my reservations, as becomes clear:

“The process of life is oblivious to the beings it makes and breaks in the course of its perpetuation.” I like the central idea of existentialism that there are certain givens with which we need to live in accord for a fulfilling life. But those givens need a light touch, they need to change with the day of the week, as it were. And they seem to me vulnerable to the demonised view of the universe which science, at its worst, implies, as well as its simplistic existential certainties. The above quote, I think, is an example of that. Life is so much bigger than we are, so unknowable in its purposes. The Greeks, with their gods and their idea of hubris, understood this.

I don’t know how existential therapy generally treats its ‘givens’ of existence. But I was watching Irvin Yalom on DVD, who is clearly a gifted therapist, I’ve enjoyed some of his books. And he encourages his patients, clients, whatever you call them, to see death as an extinction, and that any other view offers false comfort. Now we don’t know what happens after we die, all we know is that we will die. In my view the false comfort here is the certainty itself about what happens after we die: extinction. For some, any certainty can be better than no certainty.

He also wants his patients to understand that any meaning they find in life is something they alone have brought to it, it is a human construct against a meaningless background. Again, the universe is a mysterious place to which we are profoundly connected, and who knows where the experience of meaning comes from? We need it, we need to find what gives us that experience, and that is probably as much as we know. What I want to know is what happened to Irvin Yalom that he has such a bleak view of existence? (I would say the same of Richard Dawkins, with his universe that exhibits ‘blind, pitiless indifference’.)


The Mountain Astrologer put up a piece pointing out that we have just had the heliocentric square from Uranus to Pluto (only one of them occurs), as opposed to the series of seven which occurs in normal geocentric astrology:

It's occurred almost at the mid point of the series of 7 squares of geocentric squares. Maybe that always happens? And it's coincided with movement in 2 crises: the nuclear deal with Iran, and the anti-filibustering law in the US, which may make things better or worse!

There's an ongoing political crisis in the US, due to the right wing of the Republican party being obstructive with the Democrats, and bringing government and legislation to a halt. The US Sun is at 13 Cancer, so it has ways to run yet. But it is interesting that Obamacare has been caught up in it, because the US Sun is in Cancer square to Saturn. The crisis is, in a sense, does the US want to take care of its people, in a way that in Europe we take for granted?

It's almost like they have an exaggerated patriotism (Cancer) because the healthy expression of Sun in Cancer is denied by Saturn.


Responding to a comment about how conservative 'revolutionary' Uranus can be:
Well mythologically Uranus wasn't very revolutionary! He was more like the Tea Party! Maybe there's a difference between revolution and rebellion. With revolution a new order is brought in that resolves the past, but with rebellion alone the past is not resolved: you remain fighting against it and in a sense longing for it. That is maybe why America loves British Royalty.


Comment on the publication of Donna Cunningham’s new book The Stellium Handbook.

A stellium occurs when you have at least 3 planets in a chart joined together by a series of continuous conjunctions.

I haven't read the book, but I guess there is a difference between stelliums made of personal planets and those that are generational. I guess the former would give a personality that is strong in a particular way, and maybe imbalanced in others. Whereas the latter, if connected to a personal planet or Angle, would give a personality that derives its power from its connection to the collective, something speaking through you.