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.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Astrology and Academia - is there an issue?

I've started a Facebook group, UK Professional Astrologers - basically for anyone in the UK who is competent at astrology and does readings now and then or writes about it. Part of the idea is eventually getting together in 'real life'! So if any of you fit that description and would like to join, please put in a request at the group.

Here's a post I put up there.

Quote from Scientific American in 2012: “Every softer discipline these days seems to feel inadequate unless it becomes harder, more quantifiable, more scientific, more precise.” And the title was: “Humanities aren’t a science. Stop treating them like one.

So how does academic astrology deal with this sort of pressure? Is it really there? And if it is, is it one of those things that becomes normalised, and is only visible from outside?

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Two Faces of Saturn

I read on the BBC News site that the kids of rich parents in the USA are more than twice as likely to have mental health problems compared to the national average. For reasons of pressure to excel academically, as well as in sports and socially. The US has Sun square Saturn - Sun in Cancer, Saturn in the 10th. That square seems to me to describe much of how the West works - and China too, now, where 3 year-olds are being sent to boarding school.

What astrological signatures run through your family? Everyone in mine has a hard aspect from Saturn to either the Sun or the Moon. It's textbook - they are capable, hard-working, and over-invested in wealth and social position. I'm the white sheep, and I've spent my life living the shadow side of that Saturn, working through his denial of inner values, turning him into the crucible for inner work that is also one of Saturn's meanings. Interestingly, only one out of 6 children in the next generation has that signature - something is changing, a shadow is lifting.

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The outer planets have become the sexy ones in modern astrology. Saturn used to be the big cheese before they were discovered. He had, for example, the meaning of Death that Pluto now has.

But Saturn we can actually do something with. The outer planets are much harder to ‘work’ with – if you even try to do that, you have in a sense got them wrong.

The outer planets are your fate, mediated by Saturn. They are the necessary outer and inner events that move your life on in some way, but which you have no control over. The outer planets were discovered because of scientific advance, and at the same time they are a remedy to the hubris of that advance, which can make it seem like us tiny human beings are all-powerful.

So they were discovered synchronistically – a psychic imbalance was building up, and in different ways people started rediscovering those enduring powers that provide the backdrop to human consciousness. For psychology, it was the Unconscious. For astrology, it was the outer planets.

But Saturn is key when it comes to taking charge of our lives. And he is also key, because he can see the outer planets, to knowing the limits of being in charge. And those limits really are quite narrow in the larger scheme of things.

At the same time, Saturn can get carried away when he only looks one way, earthwards instead of back out to Uranus and beyond. Saturn has 2 faces, expressed by the 2 signs he rules: Capricorn and Aquarius. And Aquarius is now co-ruled by Uranus.

So it’s kind of all in there. In Aquarius, he is in partnership with freedom-loving, rule-breaking, progressive, creative Uranus.

We need both. We need Saturn as Capricorn, the ability to find our place within the world, to build our lives. But we also need one eye looking elsewhere, the ability not to take all that too seriously, to see it as contingent, and to see new possibilities. Saturn is responsibility, and in Aquarius that responsibility is to the future rather than to the past.

The 2 Saturns split in our culture in the 60s. The counter-culture arose, that took pride in rejecting the values of a one-sidedly materialistic Saturn in Capricorn. It was necessary, and it was polarised, and that is the way things often happen. But those 2 cultures are still part of one whole, they are not complete in themselves, and they need to be able to speak to each other. And they find that hard, Aquarius and Capricorn can find each other ridiculous. Government and its protesters are often miles apart.

It has to start within ourselves. Unless we have both faces of Saturn up and running, what hope have we of changing the world? Protesting, for however worthy a cause, becomes a way of disowning ourselves, fighting that within us which we do not find acceptable. I see it in the ‘alternative’ culture all the time – these rigid oppositions to mainstream currents and particularly to government, and I think I wouldn’t want you guys in charge. 

In the US particularly, the opposition to and mistrust of government is huge in a way it isn’t over this side of the pond, and it seems to come from across the political spectrum. That is a country that is deeply not at ease with itself. And I think it comes back to the complexities of its Sun square Saturn.

A country is like an individual. They are both made up of 10 planetary powers, and the voices of all those powers have to be heard by the leader Saturn. In a dysfunctional individual or country, some of those voices are being judged negatively and shut out by Saturn. And probably plonked on someone else.

If you become a complete human being, even to some degree, that in itself affects the world. Not just in your immediate relationships, but almost psychically, like a bit of wholeness is put out there in the ether.

Monday, November 04, 2013


I was quite struck yesterday by a news item about elephants. There is a herd of elephants in Africa that was formed from orphaned youngsters in the period between the early 80s and 90s – the adults and older juveniles had all been culled. 20 to 30 years later, and members of this herd do not have the social understanding of undisturbed herds. They are not able to tell the difference, for example, between the call of an older potentially threatening elephant and a younger one. Nor do they know how to respond appropriately to the call of a strange elephant, which is to bunch together in defensive formation. Rather, their response was random. Also, "young, orphaned male elephants became hyper-aggressive and attacked and killed rhinoceroses."

The first point that struck me was the implied depth of healthy elephants’ social interaction and learning, how long that takes and how comparable to humans it is. Indeed, it seems to put elephants at least on a level with us socially.

And then I looked up their brains, which are 3 or 4 times as big as ours, and no less complex. There must be a reason for that. It’s not about servicing a large body, because dinosaurs had tiny brains. The hippocampus, which is linked to emotion, is proportionately 40% bigger than in humans – making it about 5 times as big in absolute terms. And the memory part of the brain is much bigger than ours.

Blue Whale and Human Brains

See Elephant Cognition in Wikipedia. Fascinating article.

And they live in tight knit family groups for their long lives, and they exhibit a wide range of emotions including grief, and altruism towards other species.

 And it left me thinking wow, an older elephant is probably more human on an emotional and social level than most humans – maybe than all humans. They have these deep bonds with each other, they live for them, and they have a very complex social structure that takes decades to learn.

And we have this thing that other animals don’t seem to have to the same degree, a particular type of abstract and practical intelligence. And it’s our fate to live that out, even though it often makes us unbalanced in a way that wild animals aren’t. But we don’t have that elephant humanity, not so easily, not to the same degree. That deep connection with emotion, and closeness over decades to others, as a foundation for living.

And then I thought with the sheer size of elephants’ brains, it’s probably not just about more awareness in a way we’d understand: they are probably aware in ways that we have no conception of. And the same goes for whales, whose brains are even bigger.

I once read an account in a Laurens Van der Post book of a female elephant and calf who were foraging happily, when they became surrounded by lions. And from miles and miles away these other elephants sensed her danger and headed straight for her and arrived in time. It wasn’t a noise thing, it was a psychic thing based on the depth of their relationships, and I know that humans at their best are also like this, and I’m like that sometimes, particularly when friends are about to arrive at my house, I feel them coming.

But it makes the point that there is unusual awareness there, and that’s probably the tip of the iceberg. You just wonder what they are aware of. I get a feeling of breadth and depth that comes from quiet and a natural existence and the developed social structure and the learning that gets passed down and the sheer size of their brains.

And as far as I can see, there don’t seem to be aspects to the human brain that an elephant doesn’t have, suggesting that they could eventually learn all the things we can if they had hands and speech. It’s a matter of learning, and it has taken humans thousands of years to build the complexity of knowledge we have.

But maybe that’s irrelevant. The elephant brain does not seem to be needed very much for practical tasks – you only need a tiny brain for that – so there must be some huge inner thing going on. I may be wrong, I’m speculating, but what else could it be? Some kind of profound connection to and awareness of life, beginning in highly developed family relationships and moving out from there. And it’s something learned over decades, it’s not just a given, an instinct.

Science tries to understand the brains of different species in terms of the ratio of brain size to body, and guess who comes out top when you do that? Humans. Well, apart from one species of tree shrew. It is in the opening sentence on the human brain in Wikipedia. So I’m suspicious of that method, I can see no reason for it apart from a clumsy attempt to confirm what must seem like common sense to many people, namely that humans are more intelligent than all other species. And the tree shrew confirms that for me, it’s like a joke thrown into human hubris.

And then I got thinking about the elephants that grew up without the older ones around, and how they spend their whole lives not knowing basic social things. And it made me think of racehorses and boarding schools.

I think it’s rare these days for humans to be fully socialised in the way of elephants in their natural state. It is a Cancerian quality. I think there are grounds for ascribing that sign to elephants.
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And we have so many ways of not being socialised like that. People just being people together. When there are things to do, you do them. And when there aren’t, you’re just together, just being, kids included. In Tibetan religious ceremonies, you have kids running in and out, they are part of life. In the West, we try and control them in church, which is artificial. And we send them upstairs when we have our adult friends around. Well, probably more in the Protestant than in the Catholic countries.

And there is an over-emphasis on the opposite sign to Cancer, which is Capricorn, the demands of the world, the need to find your place in the world. And with racehorses they are taken from their mothers very young – I think they need years with them – and put in boxes and subject to training and pressure to perform, and soon that is all they know, and they become insecure when they’re not either performing or in their boxes.

And it’s the same with the private school system, at least in England, where kids are taken from Cancer aged 8 and put into Capricorn. So instead of gaining emotional security from family relationships – if the families are not too fucked up in the first place to do that properly – you learn to get it by proxy through performing, through exam grades and then professional achievement. The compensatory factor often makes people inflated. So it all gets twisted up, it’s a sort of brainwashing, even though some come out relatively unscathed, and that push to perform can for some be quite good despite everything else.

And you see it in middle age, these people who’ve probably done ‘well’ for themselves, they have money and professional and social status, but how many marriages have they been through, what sort of upbringing have the kids had? The primacy of that sort of togetherness has been lost and forgotten, in fact it comes to seem a bit icky and sticky. Even the women lose it, you can see them really wanting their kids away at boarding school so they can do what they want.  

But elephants are not icky and sticky, they know how to be together and they probably also know about all the hard work it takes, and in their case it is the matriarch who has to sort it all out.