Friday, May 30, 2014

Astrology, Science and Non-Rational Means of Knowing

Don’t get me wrong, I love astrology. But in the context of our wider culture, it understandably seems specialised and improbable. I don’t think it can ever be mainstream, because even as astrologers we have to suspend our disbelief due to modern astronomical knowledge: the main factor is that nowadays the Earth is commonly held to orbit the Sun (though with motion being relative, it can be argued either way); then there are the thousands of other objects circling the Sun that logically need incorporating; the signs are seasonally based (so that eg Aries symbolism is associated with Spring), yet astrology seems to work equally well in Australia; and the solar system itself is known to be part of vast Galactic cycles within cycles.

These problems are not necessarily insuperable, but you’d need quite a different astrology to make it all hang together. And we seem to have voted with our feet. The old system works, and we are by and large staying with it, even though its intellectual foundations are, for a modern, virtually non-existent.

And this lack of foundation, which I think needs to be squarely faced, points to what is really going on: astrology works through non-rational, divinatory means. That is its real strength and foundation.

And the system we use has the strength of having been built over thousands of years. Tradition is a funny thing. Even nonsense, such as parts of the Old Testament, gain credibility through being old. Old mistakes. Even the good stuff becomes wrong through being set in stone and worshipped. In this sense tradition easily disempowers.

But used in a ritual way, as a means to direct experience that lies beyond the literal, a sense of tradition seems to add power. That is why you get atheists going to church services: they may not believe the theology, but the ritual itself, the evocation of the numinous, still works.

And astrology as we use it has all that. In its own terms, the system is consistent and deeply thought through. And it has the added power of having been used for so long, which is a divinatory point: if you wanted an explanation, you could say a field builds up around a tradition, or the symbols within it, all those thousands or millions of human intentions building up over time.

The much younger Tarot has power for the same reason. The symbols have accrued something, you hold a card up and you feel something stirring within, a power takes hold.

These powers were a natural part of life until the modern age, whether through spontaneous omens, direct communing with the Other World, or a gift for reading the entrails of guinea pigs. We are the first society that has had to defend the very existence of these powers.

And that is the other reason that astrology isn’t mainstream: the non-rational doesn’t have much of a place, is even under attack. Yet it is our most valuable means of knowing.

I had the idea for this piece through thinking about what would be an appropriate divination system for the modern age, in the sense that it would take modern forms of knowledge into account and could be widely accepted.

I don’t think I have an answer. But ideally, it would build upon the old forms and so bring that sense of age and tradition with it. With astrology and tarot, we are dealing with archetypes, patterns of energy that are perennial, so there is something in those traditions that will always be relevant.

The main problem, though, is not whether astrology as used is dated, but that non-rational means of knowing do not have credibility, are even seen as risible (as an academic colleague of astrologer Geoffrey Cornelius said, they are ‘one mumbo short of a jumbo’). Even the term non-rational is a concession to modern ways of thinking, as though the rational is the main thing. Whereas the rational needs to be a support for the non-rational.

Some of the ideas behind science are very imaginative. Quantum reality. The Big Bang. Multiverses. Dark Energy. Relativity. Evolution. When you get down to basics, to what is ultimate, science seems to tell some great stories. They tell us they are facts, but who has or ever will see any of the above? No-one, for they are great products of the imagination, and that is why they have wide cultural appeal.

Even mathematics, the ultimate arbiter of reality, what is it? It is about balancing sets of arcane symbols. If the symbols balance, then an idea is real. If they do not balance, then it is not real. And this principle has real world applications. Where have we heard that before? Astrology, of course, which matches configurations of symbols with real world events. Mathematics in this sense is none other than high magic.

So behind science lies a great deal of imagination and even magic. It is just not recognised as such. But what we have are some powerful imaginative ideas supported by a rational framework. Which I think is how any system of knowledge works. The non-rational, in other words, lies at the very centre of science, just as it does with astrology, tarot and other means of divination, and around it you have the rational justifications.

When I think about Quantum theory or multiverses or dark energy, I don’t think maths - I feel these ideas, they have a power for me. If I saw them on Tarot cards, they would speak to me. And I think that gives me a truer relationship to these ideas than someone who thinks of them purely rationally, but who surely has an imaginative relationship to them which, whether or not he/she knows it, is primary.

So in any cultural resurgence of the non-rational, it is not a matter of adding it on, but of seeing that it was there all along, at the heart of things.

There are 2 MA courses in the UK run by astrologers, at St David’s and at Canterbury. How do you approach the non-rational in the context of academia? A tricky and controversial question. But the course at Canterbury (Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred), which is run by Geoffrey Cornelius amongst others, explicitly seeks to affirm and explore non-rational means of knowing. I am delighted by this uncompromising approach, albeit concerned, for the same reason, that it can endure.

Below are links to Geoffrey Cornelius (author of The Moment of Astrology) speaking in 2 parts on Limits of Rational Discourse in the Realm of the Daemon.  and

And a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"The whole world is an omen and a sign. Why look so wistfully in a corner? Man is the Image of God. Why run after a ghost or a dream? The voice of divination resounds everywhere and runs to waste unheard, unregarded, as the mountains echo with the bleatings of cattle."

Saturday, May 17, 2014

THE MAKING OF THEM: The English Cult of Child Sacrifice

The English have a tradition, which many foreigners cannot understand, of sending their young children away to boarding school. This is not something forced on them by concerned social services, which would make some kind of sense, but undertaken entirely voluntarily and at great expense. I wondered what there is in the UK Chart that might reflect this tradition.

Of course, the vast majority of parents do not put their children into care (for that is what it amounts to) in this way. So why should the chart show it? Because it is an aspirational tradition: many more parents would do so if they had the money, and the system produces many members, perhaps even the majority, of the British ruling class – yes, we do have one of them, and they are running the government right now.

Before I go any further, I want to try and take the politics out of this. Unlike many, I do not assume that the members of the ruling class act in bad faith or that they necessarily make a worse job of running the country than Labour (whose last PM but one, Tony Blair, went to public school, unlike his Tory predecessor John Major: the lines are increasingly blurred these days.) Personally, I have no allegiance to any of the parties.

All the same, the toffs are back running the country in a way that we haven’t seen for a long time: the class structure is hardening again, and it is becoming more difficult generally for working class people to rise. The acting profession, for example, is increasingly public school. And the boarding system is thriving.

For my non-English readers, public school means private school. Schools that are genuinely for the public are called state schools.

I thought I’d start my astrological exploration with my own chart, having been sent away aged 8. And at that point I was at the end of a transiting square from Pluto to my natal Moon. The death (Pluto) of childhood (the Moon). Of course, I would have had Pluto squaring my Moon (and conjoining my Asc) for some years before that, so it was all one long traumatic process, but I won’t burden you with that right now!

I have natal Moon conjunct Saturn, so Pluto went on to square natal Saturn: the demolition (Pluto) of the structure (Saturn) of my life, and the premature entrance of Saturn as worldly taskmaster. Moon-Saturn itself often describes an undernourished childhood burdened by responsibilities. 

The Dalai Lama in the 1930s

We see the opposition of Moon and Saturn in the chart of the Dalai Lama, who was sent off to the monks at a very young age. He seems to have emerged relatively unscathed, probably because the monks were a better deal than schoolteachers; but all the same, it is there in his chart, and he was taken away from his mother when very young.

And if we look at the UK 1801 chart, we see Pluto in the 5th House of children. Mythologically, Pluto abducted the young Persephone and took her to his Underworld, from which she eventually emerged as a woman. And in the UK Chart we see Ceres, Persephone’s mother, in Pluto’s House, the 8th, symbolising her suffering at her daughter’s abduction, as well as quite literally the ‘House’ in which her daughter (unbeknownst to her) was to be found.

Pluto abducts Persephone
Pluto has the function of moving us on to the next stage of life, and the way he does it is firstly by dismembering the old stage. This can be painful because we can be very attached to the old way, it may be our identity, and we may not realise that it is time to move on. All these themes are in the Persephone story. But crucially it was time for her to move on, even though it was difficult for her mother.

And in the case of boarding schools we see the abduction and the re-emergence 10 years later of 18 year olds who will, by and large, have the wherewithal and connections to be successful and prominent in the world.

But if they were 8 years old or so when they first went, then they were abducted by Pluto prematurely: in my own case, this is described by the transiting square from Pluto to my Moon, rather than say a trine or sextile. What makes the issue more complex is that, unlike Ceres, your parents co-operate in your abduction, saying it's for your own good, it's a 'privilege'. Where does that leave the child? I won't try and unravel that one here.

And here’s the thing (as they say): in sending their 8 year olds away to school (where their relations with adults will be professional rather than personal), childhood needs are being sacrificed to worldly advancement.

This is Pluto in the 5th of the UK Chart: the sacrifice (Pluto) of children (the 5th). 

Ad Break: I offer skype astrology readings (£60 full reading, £40 for an update). Contact: BWGoddard1 (at)

It can also be seen in the opposition between the Sun and Moon in Capricorn and Cancer respectively. For it is also a Capricorn-Cancer issue: the need to enter the world (Capricorn) versus the needs of childhood (Cancer).

And in the UK, as far as the ruling class are concerned, we have got that balance profoundly wrong. The Sun in Capricorn, which describes a ruling class that goes all the way back to Norman times, dominates the Moon in Cancer. Hence the stiff upper lip in a people that should be, and used to be, very emotional (Cancer). (And have, since the death of Diana, shown signs of reverting to type.)

The Sun is also in the Moon’s natural House (the 4th) and the Moon is in Saturn’s natural House, and Saturn rules the UK Sun. So the Cancer-Capricorn axis is complex, as well as very central, to the UK character. The issue is further reflected in the t-square from Ceres, the nurturing mother, to Saturn, ruler of Capricorn, to 5th House Venus. Which also says a lot about the place of mothers in that system, and their constrained relationship to their children.

If you are sent away to school very young, then you have to shut off from your feelings and attachments. The natural bonding process is broken, and it can come out later in relationship difficulties. And you have to shut off from your emerging soul (if you have one, and I know many people who seem relatively unconflicted about the whole business): your raison d’etre is to become someone who will succeed and win in the world. That is the only thing that matters in this system, whatever they say, because why else would the parents spend all that money?

So a personality is constructed that is emotionally shut down, that sees the Cancerian end of life as ‘wet’, and that is driven to win and succeed as a means of validating itself.
Hugh Grant
This sort of personality – Capricorn at the expense of Cancer - is instantly recognisable to anyone who has not been through the system. It is the archetypal Englishman, Hugh Grant or Boris Johnson or Stephen Fry. 

Boris Johnson
Ideally suited to running the country’s institutions (the media now being one of them) and in earlier times, the Empire. Superior, capable, urbane and charming, people that many of us love to admire, but with messy personal lives, compulsively driven from one woman to the next – or, in Fry’s case, from one suicide attempt to the next. 

Stephen Fry
And probably with secret sides to themselves that occasionally emerge as scandals, the strange fruit of all that had to be sacrificed when they were younger to make them the splendid chaps they now are.

So this is what we do to our children (some of us at least, but I’m sure it must reflect a national characteristic, or there would be protest: but no, we are strangely mute on the subject.) Somewhere, I think we idealise the breaking of the natural bond between child and parent, we see it as a good thing to do in the interests of the child’s worldly advancement. This idealisation is only possible through a separation from feeling, and here we are on classic Uranus territory.

And it is expressed in the chart in the square from the Capricorn Sun to Uranus rising. Uranus here has the effect of splitting the Sun off from its inner Cancerian opposite, enabling it to act in the heartless way it does.

An American Indian friend suggested to me the idea of the idealising of the breaking of the ability to bond, given that children here are sent away voluntarily. She has had a lot to do with young Indians who were forcibly sent away to school, and sees them come back angry and not knowing it, and unable to bond and not knowing it.

Here, if you can bear to watch it, is a 1994 documentary in 5 parts about the practice of sending young children to boarding schools. The film does not have an angle to push, it lets both sides speak for themselves – ironically, it is those who speak in favour of the system who unwittingly damn it with the unbelievable things they say. Like the guy who is now sending his young children away, talking about a friend of his who had regularly to be sedated to get him back to school. There is also a book of the same title, The Making of Them by Nick Duffell, which I recommend.

The documentary came out in 1994, during the Uranus-Neptune conjunction in Capricorn, opposite the UK Cancer Moon. Now there is some symbolism! And the next year Philip Pullman's Northern Lights was published. In this story people's souls take the form of animal familiars, or daemons, which are always around them. And it turns out that a group of children have been kidnapped and taken to the Arctic where they are being forcibly separated from their daemons. A parable of boarding schools, or what? From Philip Pullman's Wikipedia entry, it seems he may have been sent to boarding school (his father having died) and he has a Saturn-Pluto conjunction in Leo which may be conjunct the Moon.

In both the documentary and the Pullman book, Uranus-Neptune can be seen as addressing the issue of children being separated (Uranus) from their souls (Neptune), and the conjunction itself being a cultural energy that can heal the divide.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014


Having written a piece defending Sun-sign astrology, I thought it might be an idea to actually try doing some. I also thought I'd keep them fairly short, knowing what my own attention span is like!


As an Aries, valuing the other person’s point of view isn’t your greatest strength, but it is where you learn most. Since March, with your ruler Mars going backwards, you have been tested in this area – maybe through a difficult period in your relationships, or maybe you’ve been simply looking after a stray cat! Either way, this theme reaches a peak in mid to late May, and you’ll be able to look back and see how much you’ve changed. With Mars now moving forward again, it will be time for some unfettered action.


You had a nice, dreamy time of it in April as your ruler Venus passed through Pisces, making all sorts of trines and sextiles. This month is different as Venus moves into Aries and encounters a load of challenging angles! It is time to take action, to give birth to whatever has been subliminally cooking during the April dreamtime. This will involve struggle and challenge in the first half of the month, but by the 16th you should have a handle on what it is you are trying to create.


As a Gemini you enjoy the flow of new ideas and friends, but during the first week of May you may find yourself forced to concentrate on one thing, and think it through in a practical way. This goes against the grain, and yes it’s a bitch, and it’s probably money, but it keeps the puer aeternus on planet earth. Into the 2nd week, and Mercury is back on home territory in Gemini, squaring Neptune, so it will be time to move your life and your ideas forward again, dynamically and imaginatively. Anything you do in the last week of May will be revisited by Mercury retrograde in June/July, so that will be a good time for first drafts rather than finished products.


You are impacted by eclipses more than most signs, and during May you will be absorbing the impact of the Solar Eclipse of 29th April. During a Solar Eclipse, the Sun and the Moon meet: the roots and branches of the tree talk to each other, and the Moon is energised with the new possibilities that the Sun opens up to her. The eclipse occurred in your 11th House of hopes and wishes. As a Cancerian, you are naturally conservative, you prefer to stick with the known and safe, but May is a month for leaving your shell and allowing yourself to dream of what is possible.


You are impacted by eclipses more than most signs, and during May you will be absorbing the impact of the Solar Eclipse of 29th April. During a Solar Eclipse, the Sun and the Moon meet: the roots and branches of the tree talk to each other, and the Sun drinks deeply of the nourishment and care that the Moon has to offer. The eclipse occurred in your 10th House of career and vocation, so it is time to reflect on whether, in your desire to shine, something gets left behind. But also, a time to move forward, grow some new branches, renewed by your contact with the Moon.


As an analytical Virgo, you can sometimes get a bit stuck in abstractions. But you also have a great appreciation for the cycles of nature, and the first week of May is a great time to get philosophical about this, experience how the natural world can give meaning to your life. For the rest of May, as Mercury moves through your 10th House, squaring Neptune much of the time, it will be time to engage your imagination in your career, your vocation, in a way that, as a Virgo, is of use to the world.


This month is particularly challenging and dynamic for you. As a Libran, your classic dilemma of what you want vs what others want is being highlighted. In April, with Venus in Pisces making lots of nice aspects, you were probably at your charming best. But Venus in Aries is now saying but where were YOU in all that? It’s tricky, because you do get your sense of who you are through your relationships, so becoming a hermit isn’t the answer. The great thing about Venus in Aries is that she doesn’t feel guilty about putting herself first. And that’s the key. It’s often not so much that you don’t know what you want, it is that you feel guilty about it, like you’re a bad person for not putting others first. So this is a month for doing both with a clear conscience, and events will conspire to highlight the issue.


Intensity is one of your keywords, and this month is no exception, with Mars and Pluto, the 2 rulers of your sign, squaring up to each other. Think Ukraine, a country where long-standing issues of identity are being violently addressed. As an individual, you can be more conscious than a country. Since March, Mars has been reversing through airy, fair minded Libra. And he’s been saying to you it’s not enough to be true to what you feel, even though that is one of your strengths. You need to be able also to stand back and weigh up what you’re feeling, about both yourself and others, and ask yourself if what you feel is reasonable, does it always serve you or anyone else? And, like the Russians in the Ukraine, are there parts of you that are protesting, that don’t feel treated fairly? For example, with Mars being in Libra, maybe you have an ability to use your intellect that you back off from.


April was a challenging month for you as Jupiter formed a Grand Cross with Mars, Uranus and Pluto. The aspects remain this month, but they are no longer applying. Your natural tendency is to expand, to reach for the light, to quest for meaning. But Mars and Pluto particularly have been pulling you down to earth, even under the earth. It has been a time for gaining self-knowledge, creating a better launch pad in this world for your questing among the stars. Jupiter has for a long time been in Cancer, a sign it likes, so this process hasn’t been too terrible for you. This month the emphasis shifts onto absorbing the catalytic changes and events of April.


The approach of summer and some good weather isn’t necessarily uplifting you. And that’s not because you are a miserable Capricorn, but because your ruler Saturn is going backwards, as he has been doing for some time now, making you more reflective and cautious than usual. And this is a good thing, it is setting up a sound basis for when he starts to move forward again in July. Meanwhile, there is a trine from Jupiter to Saturn all month, uplifting you. So enjoy this period, there is meaning to be found in quiet and reflectiveness. Expect something to come to fruition around mid-May as Saturn conjoins the Full Moon.


April was a time of intense inner pressure for you, as Saturn continued his backwards journey through Scorpio, and Uranus squared up to Pluto. The pressure eases this month, but it is still pretty intense. You are happiest, and at your strongest, in the mental realm. But life has a way of forcing us out of our one-sidedness, and with one of your rulers currently in Scorpio, and with your other ruler being squared by the ruler of Scorpio, it is clear where you have been headed: the Underworld. You are still there, recovering from the latest round of dismemberment. And actually probably finding you are more whole, things are starting to flow better, than ever before. But it is not comfortable territory for you. Put another way, you’ve been encountering your ordinary humanity in some of its less wholesome forms, but it has been dynamic; through becoming more conscious of yourself in this way you have changed.


For most of this year your co-ruler Jupiter has been locking horns with Uranus and Pluto. This month, for the first time, he is starting to move away from that encounter. But it is still raw. You feel deeply and sensitively, and you probably want to lick your wounds. April was particularly challenging for you, as it was for a number of the signs. With Jupiter in your 5th House opposite Pluto in the 11th, much of the challenge has been around creative expression vs involvement with groups of friends. And that perennial issue: exposing what you have created to the rough and tumble of other people and their opinions. Criticism can feel like death, particularly to a self-doubting Pisces. This is a fire that all creative people go through regularly. The function of Pluto in Capricorn has been to give you form, get you grounded so that you can take what the world throws at you, and grow roots.