Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The 1848 Uranus-Pluto Conjunction and Franz Joseph of Austria

©2010 J. Lee Lehman

1848 rattled Europe more than anything since the French Revolution – and for many of the same reasons. To begin with, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel's Communist Manifesto was published. Riots, uprisings, revolutions and protests broke out across Europe: France, Hungary, Germany, Italy, and the Balkans. The California Gold Rush began. Switzerland, France and the Netherlands got new constitutions. And Wagner began writing Der Ring des Nibelungen (the Ring Cycle). And furthermore, the Irish potato famine was still running its course, resulting in staggering death and emigration.

Examining the chart for 1848 for Vienna (the angles will obviously differ in other parts of the globe), the Sun was in a partile conjunction to the South Node! One of the symbols of the Sun is the king: and here, authority figures were being destroyed – or at least challenged. In much of Europe, this conjunction occurred in or near the 10th house cusp, reinforcing that theme. The Aries Ingress was just a few hours after a Full Moon eclipse. The very powerful signature rocked the establishment of the time – but mostly, it didn't break. By now, Pluto was at 25 Aries – it had mostly run its course through the sign. The remainder of the period would be devoted to the reactions of the establishment to the challenges of 1848. The German rebellions were done by 1849. Hungary declared independence from Austria in 1849 – but that failed because Austria was victorious – with a little help from Russia. The new republican government in Sicily was extinguished in 1849. And in 1851, Louis Napoleon dissolved the National Assembly, a move which allowed him to declare himself Napoleon III the following year.

When we compare 1848 and 1849, here drawn for Vienna, we see the difference between the South Node and Saturn afflicting the Sun. What's the difference, since both are malefics? The South Node is destructive – and that eclipse doesn't help. Lest you assume that this is a common occurrence – think again. From 1500 – 2050, this
is the only year that the Sun was partile conjunct the South Node at the Aries Ingress. In two other years, the South Node was within a one degree orb, but in Pisces: 1513 and 1755. 1513 was the year that Machiavelli wrote The
, an influential document on the nature of kingship! 1755 was the year of the Lisbon Earthquake, one of the deadliest earthquakes ever, especially when one factors for the relative population size then and now.

By contrast, there have been five other Aries Ingresses since 1500 where Saturn was within two degrees of conjunct the Sun. Here's how they worked out:

  • 1555 (Saturn in Aries) featured the Diet of Augsburg – the congress of German princes which stabilized the existing religious division of the princes between Catholicism and Protestantism.

  • 1643 (Saturn in Pisces) was during the English Civil War. Obviously, Charles I was afflicted!

  • In 1702 (Saturn in Pisces) William III died; his daughter Queen Anne succeeded, becoming the last British monarch of Stuart descent before the Hanoverian Succession

  • In 1761 (Saturn in Aries) George III was crowned following the death of his father the previous year.

  • In 1908 (Saturn in Aries partile conjunct the Sun) there was both the Young Turk Rebellion in the Ottoman Empire, which succeeded in restoring an earlier system; and the ascension of Emperor Pu Yi in China, often called the Last Emperor.

As one can see from the list, the presence of Saturn conjunct the Sun alone doesn't depose a king. With the exception of 1643, these were all peaceful transfers of power – or confirmation of power, in the case of the Treaty of Augsburg. One does get the sense that it may be setting up a final run, so to speak.

Austria was a good case in point. The political unrest of 1848 cost Metternich his job. The Emperor Ferdinand was ineffectual, the Hungarians were already rebelling, and also portions of Austrian-ruled Italy. The military wanted a strong Emperor, so they arranged for Ferdinand to abdicate, to be replaced by Archduke Franz Joseph, his nephew. The unrest of 1848, not to mention the war on two fronts, meant that Franz Joseph was initially forced to grant a new constitution in 1849 – and to give the impression that he was a moderate or a reformer. Austrian forces were victorious in Italy, and Franz Joseph obtained aid from Russia to defeat the Hungarians. He then repudiated the constitution, and ruled from the position of absolutism, until his death in 1916 – not quite the last Emperor, but within two years of being so.

Franz Joseph's ascension occurred under the Libra Ingress of 1848. Here, we see Saturn-South Node prominent at the MC, with the Sun at its Fall at the IC – not an auspicious place, for a new reign. But Saturn blanketing the MC does not suggest that reform was really on Franz Joseph's mind. The MC ruler was Jupiter in Leo – that looks far more like the absolutist that he became than the reformer he at first appeared to be. And he became quite popular, the people represented by the Moon in Leo is approaching the conjunction to the Emperor.

The Saturn-South Node conjunction at the MC did show that things were beginning to unravel. Franz Joseph's only son died in a tragic event, probably a suicide. His next successor, his nephew Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated, triggering World War I, as we saw in the last chapter. Yet Jupiter has dignity by Triplicity: he had a long reign personally.

The chart for 1849 for Vienna shows that Austria's enemies, ruled by Mars in Aquarius, were not so strong as Austria – Venus in Taurus. That Venus also ruled the 9th – and there, his strategic alliance with Russia sealed the victory over the Hungarians.

As an aside, we have already seen that legislatures are ruled by the 11th. Here, the ruler of the 11th – the Sun – is at the Portals of Death – the 7th house cusp – open enemies, not only death. Franz Joseph's victory over the Hungarians effectively killed the power of the legislature.

Thus, we see that, while the Uranus-Pluto conjunction of 1848 had the promise of rebellion about it, that rebellion wasn't stable, and in the immediate future, produced a conservative backlash. Uranus allows people to have a taste of change - but it does not give the guarantee of change.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What is a Spiritual Disease?

In the Martial Art of Horary Astrology, I outlined some of the classical rules for determining whether a disease was physical or spiritual in nature. To reproduce the table on page 157, here is the traditional distinction.

Table One. Typical configurations for physical and mental diseases, as described by Lilly and others.

Physical Mental/Spiritual
Ascendant and Moon afflicted; their rulers not afflicted. The Ascendant and the Moon not afflicted; but their rulers afflicted.
Mars or Saturn afflicting the Moon, but not the Ascendant. Mars or Saturn afflicting the Ascendant, but not the Moon.
Jupiter in the 1st or 6th Ruler of the 9th or 12th in the 6th (witchcraft)
Ruler of the 1st in the 6th Ruler of the 6th is Mercury (witchcraft)
Moon or Ruler of the Ascendant in the 12th. Ruler of the Moon or Ascendant in the 12th.

One of my medical students recently asked me about this table, noting that this does not express his experience. I have to admit: this doesn't express my experience either. And it is precisely this point that I want to discuss.

First, I would express the following: it is a mistake to take any author as being 100% right about anything, whether an astrological author, or an author in any field. I would add a corollary: it is extremely important to understand the historical context of astrological method in order to understand whether or not the method even applies. Here, I think this point is the crux to understanding the problem: that our modern contours of disease do not map one-on-one with older theories of disease.

This week, I have been working with two women about health issues: and by chance (!) they both have ten degree Virgo Moons. Accordingly, both have had Saturn transiting their Moons, so by Lilly's rules, they would both manifest physical diseases. With Saturn separating from the conjunction, we are reminded of two things. First, that Saturn transits often have a "whole-sign" influence, where, even though the transit is officially over for both of them, the "mess" is still being cleaned up, as the Saturn completes its transit of Virgo. The second is that often Saturn shows the development of the disease, not necessarily its culmination.

The younger of the two has been diagnosed with throat cancer, and has just had her surgery scheduled. In her case, Taurus is the sign of her 6th house cusp, certainly appropriate for the nature of the cancer: and suggesting that this disease is signature for this chart: not an incidental event, but part of the major theme of her life. Saturn in Cancer is in her 8th - the disease cancer could be the cause of her eventual death. (That is not the only possible scenario, however.) But in her solar return, the most afflicted planet is the ruler of the Ascendant - arguing for a mental/spiritual disease at this time.

Now there are those people, especially within the New Age movement, who argue for the mental/spiritual side of cancer. I forcefully disagree. Not only has there been a massive increase in cancer in the 20th century correlating with the increased use of a series of carcinogenic substances like benzene, but there has been research for over eighty years pointing out these correlations. (For a fuller exposition of this, please see: Davis, Devra Lee. The Secret History of the War on Cancer. New York: BasicBooks, 2007.) With greater exposure to chemicals, more people are getting cancer - whatever their psycho-spiritual state.

It is interesting that in the 17th c. works on astrological medicine, the emphasis was on predicting whether the patient would be cured or die. It was not on diagnosing the disease by any disease categories still in use. Thus, William Lilly or Richard Saunders had no "model" for cancer. So we are somewhat off the hook about trying to explain how to use astrology within the context of soaring cancer and diabetes rates. But would Lilly and Saunders view this patient's cancer as physical, or mental/spiritual? They certainly knew cancer. Lilly describes caring for his employer's wife who had breast cancer, and it is a wrenching description.

And yet - there is also testimony to the psycho-spiritual aspects of cancer. (for an interesting exposition of these ideas, see, for example, Schulz, Mona Lisa, and Christiane Northrup. Awakening Intuition : Using Your Mind-Body Network for Insight and Healing. New York: Harmony Books, 1998.) Schulz's experience as a medical intuitive argues for at least a spiritual dimension to the process.

How do we square these two approaches? In all likelihood, our intrepid patient was exposed to chemical toxicity - something that is nearly impossible not to envision, given the chemical load which is being discovered in everybody. (For more information on chemical load, see Baker, Nena. The Body Toxic : How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-Being. New York: North Point Press, 2009.) She, like the rest of us, is walking around with a chemistry set of substances in her body. She hits a solar return in 2009 with a Venus-Mars conjunction at the shipwreck star Scheat, just shortly after Saturn completed the transit to her Moon, and with the South Node in the 6th. The cancer starts growing. Her natal 6th house shows the place. The 2009 solar return has that transiting Saturn opposite solar return Moon, so again, the problem is of the body. And yet, the ruler of her Moon and Ascendant is in the 12th, being afflicted by Neptune. So we see a mental/spiritual connection as well. So we have a mixed physical and mental/spiritual disease - which happens a lot. Mixed astrological messages again!

Our second Moon at 10 Virgo has cataracts and glaucoma. The doctors have already been doing eye surgery on her, reflecting the fact that Saturn had been in Virgo for a while. In her 2009 solar return, the Moon was afflicted by Uranus, but the dispositor of the Moon was afflicted by Neptune. Mixed indicators again.

It's harder to square the issue of mental/spiritual aspect to glaucoma and cataracts than for cancer - although still some might argue for some metaphor around seeing. But I would merely add that this woman is 83 years old. Does age trump metaphor?

Another woman I worked with on cancer, this time with natal Moon in Pisces, received her diagnosis just as Saturn had transited into Virgo. Her cancer is one that was unheard of until the 20th century, and has been correlated with chemical exposure. In the year of her diagnosis, the solar return Ascendant was not afflicted, but its ruler Saturn was in detriment in Leo, in a partile opposition to Neptune, and posited in the 8th house. That affliction to the ruler of the Ascendant makes this a spiritual disease by the old rules, but I'd call it chemical exposure, which sounds pretty physical to me. Her natal Moon is afflicted by Saturn, so at least there we have the physical affect: and her Saturn is in Virgo, so we begin to see something of the timing.

In all these cases, we get a somewhat mixed read for physical vs. mental/spiritual. So what is going on, and are the classifications even meaningful?

To answer this question, I think we have to return to to sociological context of the old rules. From the Roman Empire to the 16th century, the prevailing European model for "health care" was the contract for a cure. In this legal system, a patient and a healer actually created a legally enforceable contract, whereby both parties stipulated what a "cure" would look like (for example: being able to walk, but perhaps with a limp), along with the price for the cure. If the healer couldn't effect a cure, then the patient didn't need to pay, except for medicines. This practice put a premium on the healer being able to not only diagnose a disease, but also that it could be cured on a physical level. This contract explains the popularity of astrological medicine, which could help to determine the curability of a condition. If a patient's condition could not be cured, there would be no payment - so the physician was anxious to know whether a case was worth the effort.

Within this system, the answer is obvious: a physical disease is not one caused by physical means, but one that can be cured by physical means: herbs, baths, surgery, etc. A mental or spiritual disease was one which should be referred to other practitioners - because then prayer, exorcism, talismans (i.e., magic), or other non-physical means of cure would be appropriate.

Once we understand the context, then we can also realize that the boundaries between these categories of disease morph in different historical and sociological circumstances. We may understand cancer as a primarily physical disease: but then, spiritual insight may help in some cases.

Every time you look at a list of astrological rules: for determining the rules for marriage, or for whether the patient will live or die, or for moving house, the student of astrology is almost always confronted with a chart that has mixed messages. This can be very frustrating, especially early on in the learning curve, because the budding astrologer doesn't know what to do. Oftentimes the answer is: both arguments are true. A disease can be both physical and spiritual. Going down one path without the other produces an incomplete, partial or temporary recovery.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The 960 Year Cycle that Couldn't

©2010 J. Lee Lehman

Great conjunctions are any series of conjunctions between superior planets only. This is the system in Western astrology that moved the study of mundane past the yearly agricultural cycles into the longer cycles necessary to understand culture as an historical process, not merely a seasonal one.

The idea of longer periods was not new: the Babylonians had divided the world into three time periods as early as 1000 BCE.1 But it wasn't until a couple of centuries later that the Babylonians achieved the ability to predict the planetary positions in advance: an impressive technological advance, but one that drew away the power of the gods and goddesses to write new messages in the sky.2

What differed with the Arabic material was greater precision in the ability to calculate forward and backward, and its relation to only one astrological phenomenon: the successive conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn. The full Jupiter-Saturn cycle was declared to be a great mutation of 960 years, which, at 20 years per conjunction is a total of 48 total conjunctions, averaging 240 years per element. Quickly doing the math, 12 conjunctions per element should mean four conjunctions in each sign per pass – but this doesn't work out so neatly in practice. For example, in the just completed Earth Triplicity mutation, there were actually nine conjunctions in Earth – three to each sign. According to Masha'allah (fl 762- ca. 815) in On Conjunctions, Religions and Peoples, each change of element (mutation) was associated with changes in government.3 These ideas were further elaborated to include both political and religious changes.4 Not only was the Triplicity considered, but also the Quadruplicity:

“If their [Jupiter-Saturn] conjunction is in the tropical signs, it indicates universal changes. If it is in the fixed , it indicates the firmness of their condition, and the changes will be toward prosperity. If it is in the corporeal , the matter in this case is middling, and this indicates that at the time of their conjunction most of the prosperity is in the countries of Jupiter, and the corruption in the countries of Saturn.”5

It is almost impossible to overemphasize how important the triplicity of the conjunctions was in interpretation. Abu Ma'shar (c. 787-886) discussed this in detail in his work, On the Great Conjunctions.6 He specifies that the sign in each triplicity that is furthest from Aries is strongest: thus, Sagittarius is the strongest fire sign, and the same for Pisces, Aquarius and Capricorn. This idea of the relative strength of the three signs within an element is also applied in medical astrology.

Abu Ma'shar was clear in stating that the understanding of the Jupiter-Saturn cycle was concerning beginnings, because this combination brings order. Mars added to the series shows destruction, which produces the end of things.7

How accurate is this description of the cycle using our modern astronomical equations? The results are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Iteration of the “960 year” Jupiter-Saturn cycle in practice. This shows the first conjunction within the fiery Triplicity in each era.

Year Position Years elapsed
25 BCE 3 Leo --
769 CE 0 Leo 794
1603 8 Sagittarius 809
2338 2 Sagittarius 735

The first problem we encounter is the presumption that the first instance of the Fire signs, considered the starting point of this cycle, would always fall not only in Aries, but in the first Face (i.e., 10 degrees) of Aries, or at least some fire sign. It doesn't. For the cycle beginning 1603, none of the conjunctions occurred in the first ten degrees of Aries. So does that mean that round doesn't count? We're still in it in 2010!

If we restrict the positions to the first Face of Aries, and not the first conjunction in the Fire signs, then we get the following results:

Year Position Years elapsed
114 6 Aries --
908 4 Aries 794
1702 6 Aries 794
2497 4 Aries 795

Table 1a. Iteration of the “960 year” Jupiter-Saturn cycle in practice, allowing only Aries as the starting Fire sign.

Here we see that the presumed length of the cycle of 960 years leaves a little bit to be desired when it comes to accuracy! Either, you can have a fairly regular cycle of about 784-785 years using the "Aries only" rule, or you can have an irregular length progression of the signs through the elements, beginning with the first occurance in the element fire. In practice, this doesn't really change very much, except that we note that the transition between elements can sometimes be a bit messy, with a couple of backs and forths – and this challenges the definition of the cycles, especially since Aries is not necessarily the first Fire sign in these progressions. It also challenges history, because contemporary astrological writings confirm that 1603 was treated as the beginning of the new cycle.8

What are we to do? I think the first thing is that we simply have to acknowledge that the cycle isn't as regular as it was historically proclaimed. I am reminded of how the ancient Chinese wanted to base their calendars on the 12 year Jupiter cycle – except that it isn't precisely 12 years! Or how the ancient Egyptians used the Sothic cycle based on the heliacal rising of Sirius – giving a 365 day year precisely that also slipped over time.

This brings up the point that “almost equal” doesn't make it as a calendar system over time. In this case, I think we need to go with the actual usage: first time in an element for the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, it's a mutation. First time in a fire sign, it's a great mutation – the beginning of the entire cycle. Now, we can all use our computers to figure out the cycle length – we don't have to guess.


1 “BCE” stands for “Before Common Era” and is the currently preferred term for what used to be called “BC.” The date source is: Campion, 1994, pp 86-87.
2Campion, 2008, p 75.
3 Kennedy, E. S., et al. The Astrological History of MashA'allah. Harvard Monographs in the History of Science. Cambridge, Mass.,: Harvard University Press, 1971.
4 Burnett, Charles, Keiji Yamamoto and Michio Yano. Al-Qabisi (Alcabitious): The Introduction to Astrology. London: Warburg Institute, 2004.
5 Abu, Ma'shar, Keiji Yamamoto, and Charles Burnett. On Historical Astrology : The Book of Religions and Dynasties (on the Great Conjunctions). Islamic Philosophy, Theology, and Science,. 2 vols. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2000, p 55.
6 Abu, Ma'shar, Keiji Yamamoto, and Charles Burnett, 2000, beginning p 31.
7 Abu, Ma'shar, Keiji Yamamoto, and Charles Burnett, 2000, p 7.
8See for example, Edlyn, Richard. Prae-Nuncius Sydereus an Astrological Treatise of the Effects of the Great Conjunction of the Two Superiour Planets, Saturn & Jupiter, October the Xth, 1663, and Other Configurations Concomitant : Wherein the Fate of Europe for These Next Twenty Years Is (from the Most Rational Grounds of Art) More Than Probably Conjectured, and the Success of the Present Design of the Turk against Christendome Occasionally Hinted At. London: Printed by, 1664.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Pope and the Sexual Molestation Scandal.

The extent of the child molestation scandal against a series of Catholic priests is just breaking, and increasingly, the Pope is being implicated as yet another church administrator who wanted the problem to go away. For this, we can examine the Aries Ingress for 2010 calculated for Vatican City, although the scandal broke a bit before that. It is difficult to come up with a chart for the problem itself, because some of the cases being discussed date back to the 1950s. But also, one has to acknowledge that the church policy of celibacy may have some bearing on these cases. While it may be in the interests of the Catholic hierarchy to attempt to distract people from the heinous crimes and cover-ups within their ranks by focusing on the fact that so much of the molestation can be called homosexual, feminists for years have drawn attention to the fact that rape is as much or more a crime of power as a crime of sex.

There's so much to see in this chart! The Sun-Saturn opposition straddles the angles, thereby indicating that this is one of the hot spots where the Aries Ingress will have a great effect. This fact alone suggests that, this time, the scandal cannot be swept under the rug. But there are further arguments that confirm this. The Moon is partile conjunct the 9th house cusp. In most charts, we'd hardly read this – but the subject of our inquiry is a Church – a 9th house matter. Normally, we would read Moon in Taurus as wonderful – but this Moon in Taurus is conjunct Algol – the Head of the Medusa. The Medusa – a female chthonic symbol – the old goddesses of fate and fury: the ones that could wreck havoc and were the most feared of the female deities. It would be so easy to simply leave this as a symbol of “beheading” of the Church – a powerful symbol that, before this is over, Benedict must go. But I think both Benedict and the rest of the Church hierarchy have vastly underestimated the rage that these stories of abuse followed by cover-up have generated.

This idea is further supported by the South Node in the 10th – the destruction of the Head of State. In Vatican City, the Pope is the head of State. But with the Sun trine Mars, I have no doubt he will go down fighting. I also don't doubt that he earnestly believes that he has done nothing wrong.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Armageddon Now!

In Christian-dominated cultures, there seems to be a continual waiting game for Armageddon - the end of the world. From the teens on, people debate how many of the signs in Revelation are present - and thus how close we are to the End of Times. I remember very spirited debates about this when I was in college.

What the passion of youth doesn't seem to notice is that this has been a debate ever since Revelation was written. Early Christianity expected that the End of Time was right around the corner: the later Christian establishment had to recontextualize the mission once it became clear that people were there for the long haul.

Other cultures have not viewed time in such a linear fashion. Aristotle posited no beginning or end. Many cultures, such as the Vedic one, see time as cyclic or circular, so "beginning" and "end" are simply relative positions. In a cyclic perspective, even the destruction of the world may be seen as a cyclic event: after destruction comes the new creation.

Astrology shares cyclic time with many cultures. So why should astrologers get caught up with End of the World scenarios? The answer is: we are also embedded in all the rest of our cultural matrices. It's hard for us to buck the trend.

As we look ahead to the aspect patterns for the next couple of years, it's worth remembering that we are not the first humans to face aspects this difficult. Yes, we are overpopulated, overconsuming, overpolluting - but that doesn't mean extinction is only a heartbeat away.

As we approached the year 2000 (in many respects, an arbitrary designation, being 2,000 years from: exactly what? Not even the birth of Jesus!) it seemed to me that the hype was too enthusiastic. But it occurred to me that it was diagnostic of something very important underneath. For all that astrology is cyclic, Christian astrologers, or astrologers born Christian, find it difficult to erase the arrow of time from their mentality. In this system, there is a creation of the world (whether by God or the Big Bang), there is the incarnation of Jesus (although this may be dismissed or minimized by Post-Christians), and then the End of the World. Those of us living now missed the early Big Events - unless we count reincarnations, of course.

How could our lives be important and ultimately meaningful if we miss the ending as well, falling merely somewhere in the middle? Our egos drive us to the position that if there must be an end, then we must be part of it. The idea that the world could go on without us is just simply unacceptable. In the words of Tom Lehrer, "We will all go together when we go!"

So please, let us remember as these aspects approach fruition that maybe the point is to survive, to learn, to make choices - and to go on. It's just that the special effects for that scenario aren't nearly so cool

Monday, January 18, 2010

Critical Thinking in Astrology

I have visited this subject several times in these public forums - here, and on You Tube, but I am very concerned about the way that astrology is taught.

One of the effects of the fact that astrological education is ad-hoc, is that many extremely well-meaning people have taught it over the years. Enthusiasm may be necessary for good teaching, but it does not make a good teacher by itself. Many people who have taught astrology for years, but had no formal training in education themselves, have adopted the general idea - simplify the concepts, then have everybody do their own charts, and watch the ah ha! moments accumulate. Then follow this up with continued work with everybody's transits or progressions, family or famous, and therein lies an astrological education.

Sadly, no. What this method of teaching conveys to 90% of the attendees is that astrology "works" - but that wasn't in question! The problem is: much as people find their own charts and those of nearest and dearest compelling, this does not provide systematic training. It's like the lab in a biology course without the lecture part - no theoretical framework to hang it on. I may be known for giving a lot of practical examples in my own teaching, but you cannot do the examples without providing a coherent system to go with them - because every chart is different, and then people don't know how to apply your methods to the unknown chart.

A good teacher has to understand curriculum as well as how to approach a chart. There was a considerable trend in the 70s and 80s to simplify the astrological vocabulary. This trend originated primarily out of the work of a very few teachers who had taken on the job of teaching astrology from the ground up to groups of people who could best be described as of New Age persuasion - all in the course of a long weekend or a week.

Now let's be honest: you cannot really learn astrology that way. You can learn a few rudiments. But these ideas were being presented as full systems. As full systems, these had the potency of a fifth of scotch thrown into a reservoir. Nobody's getting drunk on that!

Why did this happen? Well - among other things, my experience as a teacher of biology, martial arts and astrology over forty-somthing years tells me that Americans hate to memorize. So if learning is going to be "fun," just take the memorization out! You're then left with people who have oversimplified concepts, and some cookbooks at home that they use to look up a reading. These people are not success stories in the realm of astrology.

Learning astrology is hard: but it doesn't have to be made harder by inappropriate teaching. Good teaching doesn't leave out the memorization: but then, it has to teach how to logically and systematically engage the concepts and derive a meaning by logical application of those concepts as they relate to the circumstances at hand, which themselves are also analyzed.

This is the key. But it must be applied rigorously.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year's Resolution

Maggie asked me yesterday if we were too old to make resolutions. But then, since I don't have a Capricorn Moon, maybe this doesn't bother me!

One of my resolutions that has achieved additional force each year is to try to be more honest: not just with others, but with myself. Now, some of you may think I have too sharp a tongue to begin with! But one of the features of the decade of the fifties (age, not birth year, although right now, they correspond) is that you discover that there really are things that you will not have time to get back to. Not that there is no future, either! But one learns that one really should prioritize and not waste the time remaining on useless endeavors. Strangely, this makes time seem to speed up.

At any rate, my subject for today is that I want to skewer one of the most insidious phrases in astrology:

"It works for me."

We've all used it - and it's time to stop.

Here's why: what does it actually mean?

  • Does it mean that you don't know why it works, and haven't bothered to investigate?
  • Does it mean that you've never examined the history of the technique you're being asked about, so you don't know its original basis, logic or context?
  • Does it mean that you know it doesn't work for other people?
  • Does it mean you are just thinking off the top of your head, and you don't know what else to say?
  • Are you such an important authority that what you say is sufficient answer?
  • Are you simply trying to get your audience to move on?
Now I've used the expression too, so I'm not just being critical of others. But I began to expunge it from my vocabulary about ten years ago. The thing is: when we give talks, classes, or write articles, we are mostly in teaching mode. And when you are teaching - you need to know that there are things you can say which inspire learning and curiosity: and there are things that shut people and learning down. Argument by authority, which is what this used to be called, is one such shutdown. If you say that, how do I disagree with you without challenging your integrity? And it's not your integrity - it's your method that I may be questioning.

But if you join me with a New Year's Resolution to get this out of your cliches, then what do you do to substitute for it, or help to train you to choose other phrases? Here are some suggestions:

  • I have found...
  • I have not yet had an opportunity to study the history of this technique fully, so I can only give you my preliminary results....
  • When I attempted to apply the methods of ___, I found I could only get results by doing this....
It is not inappropriate do do something different or new. Even as august an authority (in my book) as William Lilly not infrequently made reference to the "Ancients" doing X, and then Lilly would propose Y. The point was that Lilly told you that the Ancients did X before he then proposed Y. In other words, he put all the cards on the table.

In my job as Academic Dean at Kepler College, I often have interviewed people who wanted to challenge some of the astrology courses that we teach. Oftentimes, my first question is to ask people to name five astrology authors they have read and enjoyed. Then I ask them to distinguish between the work of those authors. More frequently than not, they cannot - or they think that by saying that So-and-So is transpersonal and Thus-and-Such is Jungian, they have answered my question.

If you do not study your sources well enough to tease out what they are actually doing that is different from other sources, then how can you actually distinguish what is unique in your own work? And how can you hope to enlarge your horizons?