Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Moment of Astrology

After 25 years of learning astrology, I have just read my first book on the subject from cover to cover. It’s The Moment of Astrology by Geoffrey Cornelius. What gripped me was that the author was questioning and re-assessing the whole tradition as it has come down to us. He uses a fair bit of scholarship, but in the service of his central thesis, which is that astrology is a form of divination: the ‘moment’ of astrology occurs when the daemon gets involved with your reading of the symbols, and an inspired and unique interpretation takes place.

An authentic reading involves both skill in the craft AND this other, hard-to-define element.

I think it’s the most important book out there on modern astrology.

In no sense is it scholarship ‘from the outside’ to prove a theory ‘about’ astrology, in the academic sense. No, this is astrology from the inside: he uses chart interpretations as evidence, and proposes that a non-rational means of knowing lies at the heart of our craft. Scholarship is used to clarify and affirm, rather than ignore, this non-rationality.

While admiring the work of Ptolemy, the 2nd century definer of horoscopic astrology, Cornelius also to some extent deconstructs his work, and shows where later astrologers contradict him. In particular, he is concerned to de-literalise the moment of birth: the fact that an exact time is often impossible to ascertain suggests the necessity for a re-think. The birth of something is essentially a powerful IMAGE that astrologers use, powerful because that moment is held to contain the seed of all that comes after. But that is just one form of astrology.

Horary astrology, for example, which has often been treated as an outcast, is not like this. It is about asking a question and finding the answer in the chart for the moment the astrologer understood the question. And Cornelius gives some striking examples of horary working.

So the chart as the seed of something is not essential to what astrology is. Nor is even getting the right time for either a birth chart or a horary chart. As we all know, wrong charts often work!

The effect of this deconstruction is to remove the illusion of objectivity that is often there when we are dealing with a chart: when we learn astrology, it involves real planets with real meanings and rules of interpretation. And this gives the impression that astrology is ‘out there’ in the stars for us to read and interpret. Cornelius’ thesis, as I understand it, is that this is not the case. What we have is a set of symbols, on which the astrologer brings his divinatory consciousness to bear. And because astrology is not ‘out there’, each reading of a particular chart is unique, as many of us have experienced.

This is The Moment of Astrology, this unique, divinatory situation. And I think the title is a play on The Moment of Birth, which is what is usually understood as the moment of astrology: that exact moment that defines everything that is to follow, according to the Ptolemaic model, and which therefore suggests something ‘objective’ in astrology.

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The opening chapters of the book thoroughly chronicle the history of the attempts to prove or disprove astrology scientifically. And while there are some results that are worth a second look, by and large the proof that emerges is that astrology is NOT scientifically verifiable. One of Cornelius’ strengths is that he looks at facts in the face, and this is one of them. And he turns it around to lend weight to his thesis that astrology is divinatory rather than ‘objective’.

Another fact he faces is that Science has good grounds for not taking astrology and other divinatory arts seriously, in that the standard is often so lamentable. I think that if astrology were recognised as essentially divinatory, rather than vaguely 'objective', it could take steps to develop more of an understanding of, and training in, this elusive, yet all-important, faculty.

Cornelius brings in the post-modern position of current thought, which relativises and denies the possibility of solid, irrefutable foundations to knowledge. And consistent with this, maintains that his is not the only way of looking at astrology.

My view on that is yes, providing that our understanding of astrology is mythological rather than literal. So you may take the view that there really are energies ‘out there’ associated with the planets – why not? – but if that becomes literalised into ‘that lump of rock is causing events on earth’, then I think the nature of astrology has been misunderstood.

This is not a comprehensive review of the book, just a few central points. Another area that gets raised, for example, is time: we usually assume that astrology involves a coming together in time of heavenly and earthly events. But this is not so. It is another case of ‘wrong charts working’. Even, in one case, a horary chart from several hundred years ago casting light on a similar situation now. And the modern divide between subject and object is also explored.

The cumulative effect of Cornelius’ deconstruction of some of the foundations of astrology is liberating: it frees us to fully acknowledge the divinatory element that, I suspect, is what drew us to astrology in the first place. And it connects us back to the origins of the craft in omens and augury and dreams. BUT, he says, that was never about foretelling the future, it was about how to live well, how to live in accord with the gods.

And paradoxically, another effect for me of this deconstruction was to make the foundations of astrology more solid. And the reason is that it brings astrology back to divination, or inner knowing, which in my view is the only solid foundation there is in life.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The IC, the Shadow and Fate

The 4 Angles of the Chart – the Top, the Bottom, the Left and the Right – are our 4 main points of connection to the world. The MC, the IC, the Ascendant and the Descendant respectively. If someone has major transits to all 4 them, you often see their whole life change.

And I think the IC particularly can get overlooked compared to its more glamorous counterpart, the MC: career, vocation, how the world sees us, our place in the world.

The IC is hidden, it is the sign directly below our feet at the moment we are born, and is therefore invisible. (Imum Coeli means 'Bottom of the Sky'.) If any point can lay claim to the personal unconscious, it is surely the IC (Just as the Moon, the natural ruler of the IC, is the planet associated with the personal unconscious).

Planets and Angles are different things: the emphasis with planets is on what is within, whereas the emphasis with Angles and the other house cusps is that which is without, our connection to the world. The distinction, though, is not rigid. So the IC becomes those aspects of our behaviour which are invisible to us – unconscious - but often visible to others.

We’re on shadow territory here. The things your friends think about you but tell you at their peril. The way it comes out of course also involves the Asc/Desc axis, but I'm proposing it starts here, in the hidden recesses of the personality. 

With Aries on the IC, are you a pushover, underneath your reasonable front? With Taurus, do you put your own comfort before emotional commitments (as Mr Obama is alleged to do)? Gemini: do you see the world in black and white terms and polarise around that? Cancer: are you, like Tony Blair, secretly narrow and partisan in your outlook? And Leo, do other people feel life has to revolve around you and your needs? Virgo: are you secretly judgemental of others? Libra: do you, like George W Bush, present a decisive front to compensate for an inner uncertainty? With Scorpio, are you quick to take offence, and less reasonable than you like to think? Sagittarius: Do you wander from teacher to teacher, unable to find your own sense of meaning within? With Capricorn on the IC, do your friends find you rigidly attached to the ‘proper’ way of doing things? Aquarius: have you really thought about those groups you’re involved in and whether they’re doing more harm than good? Pisces: do you put up a sign saying 'do not disturb' and project your aggression onto those who break your rules?

There are any number of ways the shadows of these signs could be put, this what I have ‘divined’ for now, maybe you’ll find they apply!

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But the IC isn’t just the personal shadow, it is much more than that. It is the foundation out of which a healthy MC can grow. It is childhood, it is family. It is where we are private and personal. It is the place where we regroup, 'downtime'. (It is not the solitude of the 12th House, which has a more collective and imaginative emphasis.)

The MC-IC axis is like a tree, with the IC as the roots and the MC (Medium Coeli: the Middle of the Sky) the branches. If you like, it is the World Tree of Norse tradition, Ygdrassil, on which we each have our place; or rather, among whose 9 worlds we are spread. At the top is the eagle, with his broad vision of the world. And underneath, among the roots, is a dragon, a symbol of the hidden power of strong foundations.

At the base of the tree are the Norns, the Fates who water Ygdrassil from the Well of Wyrd and who allot each child his or her future. The Norns are therefore associated more with the roots of the tree, with the foundations and the beginning of life, than they are with the branches.


So maybe in that hard-to-know place within, the Fates are at work, the pattern of our life is woven, and the MC is the expression of that pre-existing weave. The IC is in one sense our Fate in a psychological sense: often that which seems to ‘happen’ to us is a consequence of that which is within, but unexamined. As Jung said, Character is Fate. But the roots of Ygdrassil are very deep, they are not just ‘personal’. The IC takes us way back to a place we can only think about mythologically: past lives, timeless patterns, the Mind of the Creator – powerful archetypal images that we can connect with more consciously through the solitude of the 12th House. And the idea of Fate has these sort of resonances. Who knows what the gods have dreamed up for us? For Fate is also a dream, with all its multi layers and fluidity, and always with a mystery at its heart.

So encountering the IC is a matter of how deep do you want to go?

Moirai: the Greek Fates

I don’t want to get into a discussion of Fate and Free Will here. But I think Fate is best considered as an image rather than as an idea on its own. Those Norns are a very powerful image, and they suggest Fate as something living and human rather than dry and deterministic, which is something most of us reject. They suggest some bigger pattern that we are all part of. It is outside of time, and therefore in a sense ongoing, rather than set in stone at birth. Free Will doesn’t seem to have the same powerful imagery around it (try googling an image of it!), maybe because it is a more recent idea, and maybe because it suggests an autonomous humanity, freed from the ‘deterministic’ shackles of the gods who we imagine we have become, and who are the source of such powerful, archetypal imagery.

A transit to the MC is also a transit to the IC. In a way, the transit to the IC needs to be considered first, for any growth in the MC will emerge from the heightened self-knowledge that the transit to the IC will bring.

And a starting point with the IC is, like the Moon, an awareness of what it is that nourishes us, and the gaps we have that tend not to get nourished. This can be looked at not just through the sign on the IC, but through the condition of its ruler, the natal planets aspecting the IC and any planets in the 4th House.

But with the IC there is more emphasis on connection to the world than there is with the Moon: so it is not just about exploring feelings, it is about looking at home and family and the way that is an expression of what is most personal and close within ourselves.

The IC is much harder to ‘get hold of’ than the MC, but in a way it is more important, in that the MC flows naturally out of the foundation of the IC. The MC as career is one thing, and it is usually tied in with the necessity of earning a living. But the MC as vocation is another, and I think the MC in this sense is not something to worry about, to scratch your head over its absence and feel somehow inadequate for not knowing what it is. 

That fretting itself is a sign of gaps and holes in the IC, along with modern notions that we need to be able to define our life and have a direction to it. That is the shadow side of Saturn, the natural ruler of the MC. Why not just live? say the IC and the Moon. Who says we need a ‘vocation’? 
Who are we to judge that our lives are inadequate if ‘all’ we do is muddle along reasonably happily?

On the Norse World Tree a squirrel scurries between the Eagle and the Dragon, carrying malicious messages. Maybe there is an inherent tension in human beings between the MC and the IC, between the things we can imagine doing and what, if we consult ourselves, is the right thing to do. Through the MC we can do amazing things, but we forget the foundations. For the Greeks, this was hubris, and nemesis was the gods' way of restoring the balance.

In a way the MC and IC are not separable. The source of the IC is ultimately timeless, and the MC reaches to that same place, but in a way that has been lived. If we pay attention to that hard-to-know IC place with a wide, mythological perspective, what to do with our lives will tend to present itself to us.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The End of the World?

In the run-up to major astrological alignments, the word gets out and people start to get worried. And then…. Nothing happens. Or not much more than usual happens. And the fact that very little happens gets forgotten about, and people get worried all over again the next time there are some major alignments.

We’re in the middle of one of those periods right now. There is a Cardinal Grand Cross in the sky that will peak on 23rd April [1], and there are lunar and solar eclipses in the middle and at the end of the month respectively.

Astrology is not a mechanical thing. This is my beef with the way mundane astrology – the astrology of countries and politics and world events – is often practised, as though it can be reduced to a set of rules.

Astrology is essentially divinatory. In spirit it brings us back to ancient times when the seer would be posed a question or a problem, and he or she would head off and go into a trance or go to sleep and dream and would consult with the gods or whatever powers there were, and then would come back with advice. And the advice from that sort of realm is always about how to live well, maybe you are given some insight into a situation, or get told how to go about something, or given a cure for a medical problem.

That kind of consciousness, which is opaque to much of modern thought, is the context in which astrology arose.

With that perspective, it becomes absurd to separate the astrologer from the chart being read, and reduce it to a set of rules that can predict the future. We do not need to be told the future. What we do need as humans is to be reminded of the wider forces, natural forces that surround us, which we tend to forget but which need to be taken into account and which can also guide us.
That way we will live well. We forget those powers because the business of everyday living can be so demanding, or because we get inflated or depressed. So part of our job as astrologers is to remind people of that, not in a pedagogic way, but through the experience of those powers at work.

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So when some major planetary alignments come up, they do not necessarily mean anything at all. You need an astrologer functioning beyond the rules to see their meaning, and his or her job is not really to portend catastrophic events, which is what people get most worried about. (It’s not just worry though, is it, we also want interesting, dramatic events to happen.)

I looked up an interpretation of the 2 coming eclipses by Bernadette Brady, and she writes: “… wasted energy or misdirected motivation… There can be sudden inspiration but this is potentially unfulfilling. No real action should be taken.” [2]

That was kind of synchronistic for my theme. Some of her interpretations have a lot of action around them. But this one could be summarised as not a lot is going to happen!

I had someone ask me if they should be worried about the Cardinal Grand Cross, and my answer was well it doesn’t interact with your personal chart, so you can probably ignore it!

To some extent, of course, astrology can be reduced to rules. We need them, they are the launch pad. And to some extent astrology-as-rules works. But what tends to happen when you use those rules repeatedly to generate a particular meaning is that it gradually stops working!

There is a trickster at work: Mercury, the messenger between the gods and this world, gets in the way. I suspect it is the same with homeopathy, for example: you cannot separate it from the practitioner, the who and the how is just as important as the pill itself, the diagnosis is not in that sense ’objective’. 2 homeopaths could prescribe the same pill in the same situation, but one pill may work better than the other because of where the homeopath ‘went’ to find the cure.

And for astrology to work well, there needs to be a real question, or a real issue. We know that through doing readings. You can be coming out with good standard interpretations of a chart, but somehow it’s not really going anywhere, you’re not connecting with the other person, and you’re interpretations aren’t that good as a result. And then bam! you find why the person is there for the reading, you connect with them on that level, and the chart opens up. I had an experience recently where I hit the issue, and it was exactly what the other person didn’t want to talk about, and wouldn’t give me information on it, but I kept coming back to it because that was where the chart was pointing.

So this brings me back again to the major alignments that people get concerned about, which I suppose belong to mundane astrology, because it is world events, floods and earthquakes and military invasions that vaguely seem to worry people.

Are people really worried, or just enjoying the thrill of potentially ‘interesting times’? Is there a real question? And where the worry is real, is that because of a particular way of looking at astrology and the heavens, as though the will of the gods is a mechanical thing that exists independently of the participation of the astrologer/seer/priest/witch doctor?

OK, many of us are prone to superstition at times, which is a kind of determinism. And astrology as it has come down to us is maybe the worst offender in this respect among the divinatory arts. And the offence comes from the idea that the heavens have a meaning that can be divined, that exists independently of the divinatory consciousness of the astrologer. And this is not the case. Why else would every astrologer have a different take on a chart? But nor is it just a ‘subjective’, whimsical act on the part of the astrologer. Every reading is particular and individual and dependent on the astrologer being able to go to that place in him or herself that the divination emerges from, and being able to bring the other person along.

It is an experience that you and the person you are reading for and the planets are all ‘inside’, it is a particular message from the gods, and if you try to stand ‘outside’ that – as we moderns tend to – then that essential sense of participation is lost. [3]

[1] As Mars moves from applying to separating in its opposition to Uranus

[2] Predictive Astrology p332

[3] Some of the ideas in this piece have been augmented through reading Geoffrey Cornelius’ ‘The Moment of Astrology’. I didn’t know about him until recently, and my response has been wow, at last, an astrologer who thinks like I do!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Sociopath Next Door

I just got a book from Amazon, ‘The Sociopath Next Door’. I was beguiled into ordering it by the title, but the book itself seems dull, albeit worthy. (Much better is Jon Ronson’s ‘The Psychopath Test’.) All the same, it’s an American book, and it got me reflecting that there is this theme in America that the ordinary person next door, who looks just like you or me, could be harbouring a dark secret.

You see it in 2 current TV series, ‘Homeland’ and ‘The Americans’. In the first, a soldier returned from Iraq, now living with his family as a regular American and a hero, is secretly a Muslim terrorist. In the second, set in the 80s at a Reagan-induced height of Cold War paranoia, what appear to be a normal American husband and wife are in reality Russian agents living under false identities.

This theme seems to go all the way back to the Salem witch trials, when ordinary women were put to death for practising witchcraft. It is a theme that can turn into mass hysteria, as occurred (along with Salem) in the Communist witch hunt of the 1950s.

I wondered what is it in the US chart that might express this theme? A bit of illegitimate astrology is revealing. The US Sibly Chart is for 1776, the Declaration of Independence. It occurred at the Uranus Return of the Salem Witch trials. So even though the US did not exist in 1692, Uranus was at that time conjoining what was to become the US natal Uranus at 8 Gemini.


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And the US Uranus is conjunct the Descendant, the point of other, of projection onto the other. Uranus is about splitting/division, and you also have uncertainty, you can never be quite sure what is going on, your neighbour really might be a Communist/Muslim terrorist/Russian agent/Devil Worshipper. (In Homeland, the evil has spread even to an American hero. Is no-one immune?) The theme of projection is intensified by Sun, Jupiter, Venus and Mars all being in the 7th House.

The Salem Witch trials were religious in origin – Satan was in the world, and he could be infesting anyone, so keep on your guard. All misfortunes, the people believed, were due to the work of the Devil. The US has both Sagittarius Rising and Sun conjunct Jupiter, making it an unusually religious nation.

So putting all this together, the theme of the neighbour with the dark secret seems to go all the way back to the Protestant/Puritan origins of the US, the religious fanatics who came over from Europe to found the New Jerusalem. There were, of course, witch trials in Europe around that time as well. But Europe was more of a mixture. In England, the Puritans came and went.

In psychological terms, it comes down to the shadow, projecting it ‘out there’
and seeing others as having the brutality or whatever that is in fact your own, but unacknowledged. We all do it in one way or another. It’s the bits we are ashamed to admit to. They may not be ‘bad’, they may just be conventionally unacceptable. And if we are happy to talk about what we think of as our shadow, then it probably isn’t.

A book that has this American theme is ‘The Human Stain’ by Philip Roth. The ordinary person here is secretly black. His ancestry is black, but his skin is so white that he can conceal it. It is his shameful secret. He is a Professor, and he is unfairly accused of racism. And the story develops from that. But I thought it was rather a brilliant take on the theme. Your neighbour might be secretly black. As if blackness is an inherited evil that is not the same as skin colour. You can never be too careful.

And perhaps the American Dream is the obverse of the same theme, with the same religious root. Just as Satan can enter anyone, so can anyone, if they work hard enough, be saved. Anyone can become rich and famous. Maybe they are 2 sides of the same coin?

PS I didn't talk about Pluto, who is typically associated with the Shadow. But maybe he is the content of the Shadow, whereas in this case Uranus and the 7th House are the propensity to split, to see it in the other. And a major feature of this particular Shadow issue is treason - whether it is the Russian agent or Muslim terrorist, both disguised as ordinary Americans. And treason is a betrayal (Pluto) of the State (Capricorn). The US natal Pluto is in Capricorn.