I was at a party the other day. Not a good party, where everyone takes their shoes off and hangs out in the kitchen. One of those where you have to balance a cocktail and a couple of greasy things on a napkin while shaking hands and introducing yourself to people who talk about a lot of things you aren’t very interested in. The inevitable question comes up: What do you do?
I said I was a producer, which is true, but…I said I used to be an executive in British television, also true, but…I said I was a writer. Asked what I write about, I said I sold a screenplay and am working on an historical novel, which is true, but…not once during the night did I mention that I was an astrologer. Considering that I spend 80 to 90 per cent of my time as an astrologer, whatever else I said was almost a lie.
When I got home, I wondered why I kept silent. It bothered me. I’m usually not so reluctant to reveal. The environment wasn’t particularly hostile, the usual gathering of New York theatrical types, famous for their liberal attitudes and their acceptance of just about anything within reason. But suddenly, given the nature of the conversations around me, I sensed that astrology was no longer considered a topic within reason. To this educated audience, it was an unacceptable world view. A few years back, this wouldn’t have happened. The confession of my profession would have been greeted with good-natured curiosity. What changed?
I think recent times have finally had impact on astrology itself. Religious fanaticism on all fronts, both here and abroad, has made people turn away from anything having to do with a world view that isn’t based on here-and-now evidence. Belief itself has gone out of fashion, in favour of cold proof.
We’ve had a good ride recently, astrologers. The boom in the late sixties was followed up with decades of absolutely brilliant work from gifted thinkers, from the ever-practical and common sense Stephen Arroyo to the psychological symbolism of Liz Greene to the esoteric explorations of Jeffrey Wolf Green and beyond. New contributors to the field face a more uphill struggle. More and more I meet people I like and respect, people who are normally intelligent, open-minded individuals, who dismiss our profession out of hand. I find that here in the Northeast, around the New York city area, astrology has gone underground compared with ten years ago, when workshops and lectures were abundant. Colleagues of mine trying to set up classes in New York have remarked on the lack of interest here. Another colleague recently told me that his lectures on new material at conferences have been sparsely populated. Maybe it’s not just New York.
But as astrologers, do we really base our work on belief? Not really. We are interpreters of a structured system that has stood the test of time, and that evolves according to the society that practices it. We’re map-readers who use the cosmos instead of the road. As Liz Greene said in a wonderful interview with Nick Campion (available on astro.com, Living with Pluto) “I don’t have to believe in my car, but it takes me where I want to go.”
The people who deny astrology, who denigrate us, usually know very, very little beyond what they read in the papers, and their arguments are full of straw dogs, falsehoods that they build up to tear down. (Much like Republicans.) They assume we believe that we are powerless in the face of planetary influence, that celestial bodies directly influence our lives. Frankly, I don’t. I believe that an astrological chart is a map charting a position in the space/time continuum. It is comprised of a sophisticated and complex symbolic language revealing active psychological archetypes and cycles of life, represented by planetary positions, that years of study have taught me to interpret. Thousands of years of astrological development have taught us how to read the macrocosm in the microcosm.
Most people who know nothing about it throw astrology into the witches brew with phrenology and tea leaf reading. But it begs the question, is astrology a religion?
Basically, religion is about realignment with something greater than ourselves. It’s a 12th house matter. On the other hand, morality, ethics, structure—those are 9th house things. Jupiter is about understanding the greater picture, but Neptune is about experiencing it. I don’t have a problem with folks not accepting a god or gods. My problem comes when people who don’t have a god or a particular world view begin to turn their 9th house thought systems into a 12th house worship. The New Backlashers haven’t denied a god or gods, they’ve just replaced them. Science has been elevated to the status of godhead; we just don’t recognize the scientific model of materialistic determinism as a type of world view. (The poet William Blake called them, “The Measurers.”) And even that would be all right, if it accorded its belief its rightful place and recognized it as a 12th house matter. I see a lot of scientific types actually according the scientific model the kind of divinity that is usually seen in religious fanaticism. Likewise, their hatred and disdain for world models that are unlike their own, as if they had a handle on truth. Sound familiar?
I’m not proposing a return to a pre-Enlightenment existence. And I’m not loony enough to deny what the scientific process has brought to the world. But if you reject belief systems in general, don’t go around proselytizing your belief in non-belief like a member of some oppressed heretical cult. I remember seeing astronomer Carl Sagan on the PBS series “Cosmos,” back in the day, nearly foaming at the mouth with ecstasy at the thought of exploring the universe, discussing each episode in breathless rapture. Entertaining, but not a rational, ninth house thing, by any means. To Sagan, the universe was full of mystery, something we would define as divine. (The overblown language was a giveaway.) My problem is not that he worshipped astronomy, but that he did not recognize that he did. It defined his world. The ninth house spilled over into the 12th.
I will freely admit that astrology often leaves me awed and breathless. (And my work here is proof enough of my tendency to overblown language.)
The 12th house is our view of the cosmos. A religion is not so much a worship of something or some one in the sky (or of the earth, if you are a pagan) as it is a worldview. This is my personal experience of the universe. This is my bottom line on how the world aligns itself and how I fit within it. This is how I realign myself with the higher powers of that universe, whatever I believe they may be. Rules for morality and acceptable behaviour are 9th house things. What I find awe-inspiring (inspire: to take in spirit) is in the 12th.
Ironically, quantum science has proved that the world doesn’t work in quite the way the New Backlashers say it does. From a quantum point of view, things change according to our perception of them. The world orders itself around how we think, which is something esoteric philosophy has always known. Results of experiments in quantum physics change according to the expectations and perceptions of the person conducting the experiment. Those little particles shift according to our observations of them. It works in the workaday world, too. If a person believes that the number four is powerful or lucky, they will start seeing number fours every time they have good luck. It works both ways; what we see, notice and take in will alter according to our belief.
There was a famous experiment involving four leaf clovers and a football field. Same football field each time. Three groups of people. In the first group, they were told to find four leaf clovers. They found very few. The second group was told that the field had a high percentage of four leaf clovers in it. They found a lot more. The third group was told that the field had been especially planted for four leaf clovers. That group found masses of them.
If you ask the New Backlashers what they believe in, they say science. Well, science isn’t something you believe in, it’s a system of proof that gets you where you’re going. Properly practiced, it proves or disproves ideas about how things work. Much like astrology. Some of us will look for better materials to construct suspension bridges, some of us will cure diseases, and some of us will discover new paths to help people through the life-altering grief that can come with a Sun/Pluto transit, or find practical meaning in an esoteric aspect. What you find depends on what you’re looking for.
At some point, if we practice astrology, we have to reconcile it to our world view. Where does it fit in to our larger picture of how the universe orders itself? But for the meantime, let’s try to be brave. When the nay-sayers question our credulity (and our very intelligence), let’s look them in the eye and tell them, “Because it works.”
In his song, “The Future,” Leonard Cohen wrote, “The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it’s overturned the order of the Soul.”
Astrology is all about the order of soul. Ultimately, we are aligned to the universe by what we love. Love, real love, opens our hearts and minds and understanding. This is what astrology has given to me. Shame on me for being blizzard-blind.