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Modern and Traditional Views on Difficult Placements

Modern and Traditional Views on Difficult PlacementsIn the 26th episode of the show I talk with astrologer Mark Jones about the differences between modern and traditional views on difficult chart placements, and we discuss the validity of using distinctions such as “benefic” and “malefic” in astrology.

Mark’s background is in counseling and psychology, and he specializes in evolutionary astrology. His 2011 book is titled Healing the Soul: Pluto, Uranus and the Lunar Nodes, and his second book titled The Soul Speaks: The Therapeutic Potential of Astrology will be released in May.

You can find out more information about Mark’s work at PlutoSchool.com.

Mark and I will both be giving workshops at the Northwest Astrological Conference in May.

Outline of the Show

Here are some of the topics that we touched on during the course of the episode:

  • The setup for the discussion is our first conversation at the Northwest Astrology Conference (NORWAC) in 2013.
  • Mark’s question: Aren’t you doing harm to your clients by using distinctions like benefic and malefic, which make things look too black and white?
  • Chris’ response: Not acknowledging those distinctions does a disservice to the client by not validating the subjective experience of their life.
  • Broader question: are distinctions like benefic and malefic appropriate?
    • Is it too black and white, or too extreme?
  • Can such a distinction be appropriate with astrologers but not with clients?
    • Is there a difference between how to talk to each other versus clients?
    • Is it limiting to make it so that discussions about what is appropriate in astrology should always be done within the context of what is appropriate in a consultation?
      • Are consultations with clients the be all and end all of astrology?
  • Subjective experience of events versus objective or universal sense of purpose.
  • Is there a distinction between astrologers who focus on theory versus those who focus on practice?
  • Interpreting or judging single placements in isolation.
  • Telling a client about their chart versus having a dialog about their life.
  • The extent to which astrology is contextual.
  • Does a person’s level of consciousness have an effect on the the way the chart plays out?


A full transcript of this episode is available: Episode 26 transcript

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  • Chris and the aptly named MARK JONES give an illuminating dialogue about traditional and modern methods.
    Chris, when Ptolemy speaks about climatic zones as formative to the man, he may be following Aristototle, ” man and the stars make men”. Another influence on Ptolemy, altho this is off the point, is Appolonius of Perga, 300 BCE. Some think Ptolemy considers this Pergan his master, separated by 400 years, of course. This Appolonius is similar to other astrologers, such as al-Tusi and Isaac Newton, in that their conventional fame is as mathematicians- Rob Schmidt has told me he thinks Appolonius is the “father of algebra” ( an Arabic discovery in the opinion of most).
    My studies are focused on the medieval Arabic tradition, where malefic influence is understood as ” God’s wrath, which is God’
    s mercy in disguise”. Or, in the Revelation of John, Christ with the two edged sword in his mouth, one side for good, one side against evil.

  • Chris and Mark,
    Wonderful discussion, thank you.
    Joe: This is the way I think about malefics but never read it before…this is a gorgeous quote, thank you….”My studies are focused on the medieval Arabic tradition, where malefic influence is understood as ” God’s wrath, which is God’”
    s mercy in disguise”.

    Best to all

  • Hi Chris & Mark
    I was so stimulated by the questions & the answers of your discussion that I came up with others with a sincere attempt to share similar issues that have arisen from my astrological studies. If any you or any of the readers find them useful, please feel free to take any listed below & even modify them to suit your particular context.
    I am so glad that a balanced discussion can be had between proponents of different astrologies

    1. Are traditional distinctions like benefic & malefic valid in principle?
    – What are the differences between the appropriacy & validity of this contrast?
    – Does this benefic/malefic distinction make things look too black & white?
    – If so, what could be used to replace these words without losing their distinction?
    2. Can the use of the benefic/malefic distinction be appropriate & valid between astrologers?
    – How about between astrologers & clients?
    3. How appropriate/valid is it to identify & discuss malevolence in a chart to the client chart?
    – How appropriate/valid is it NOT to do so?
    4. Should there be a difference between how astrologers talk to each other about problematic instances or configurations as opposed to clients?
    – If so, how would these difficulties be addressed in therapeutic consultation?
    – Should the same verbs (see, read, says, tells me, etc. used between astrologers) be used within therapeutic consultations?
    5. Should astrology develop a specialized professional language (as in medicine or law) so as to ensure its independence as a discipline as well as to protect clients in a therapeutic context?
    6. Is the word client the only appropriate name for the one who consults an astrologer?
    – Who is entitled to be call astrologer?
    7. Is it valid or appropriate to limit the discussion of what is astrology is / does only from what is appropriate within the context of therapeutic consultations?
    – Are client consultations the only raison d’être for astrology?
    – Is astrology’s ultimate validity only to be sought within the context of consultations?
    8. Would our understanding of astrology be enhanced by comparing how IT, Information Technology (trade-school training) differs from Computer Science (tertiary education) in terms of the kinds of knowledge they acquire & maintain?
    9. What is the distinction between astrologers who focus on practice versus those who focus on theory?
    – How valid / appropriate is the distinction between practice & theory to astrology?
    – Should practitioners be seen as more representative of astrology than those engaged in philosophical enquiry & searching for rationales underpinning practices?
    – Should they NOT have the both kinds of knowledge to justify the name astrologer?
    – If not, would the difference in professional focus be best served by adding words like practical or therapeutic versus theoretical or philosophical to the word astrologer so that the public knows who they consult?
    10. Is there any value in examining how the application of the theory of evolution may have influenced how traditional astrology is viewed?
    – In what ways can contemporary astrology claim its superiority over that of the tradition?
    11. Can my current level of knowledge & training allow me to articulate logically the parts of traditional astrology that is of value to us today & the future?
    – Similarly, can it allow me to explain lucidly the parts of traditional astrology which have little relevance to us today & the future?

  • Hi Tom

    Good questions, I hope you don’t mind if I answer, not as a substitute for Chris, but just because I found your questions interesting and wanted to answer them as I personally see them – being someone who was primarily interested in psychological forms of astrology but gradually moved to incorporate more traditional principles.

    Yes the distinctions are valid, in the sense that distinctions such as ‘stressful’ or ‘easy’ are valid when we discuss the differences in between trines and squares. Indeed whether we label them as malefic/benefic or anything else, the question ought to be is there an interpretive difference, even if only implicit, between those planets, and the answer is yes. We can verify this, even in modern terms, by examining how many stress related suggestions are given for, say, the saturn return as opposed to the jupiter return. Or Jupiter in trine compared to, say, Saturn in square to a given planet, like the Moon. Modern astrology has one set of vocabulary, and traditional astrology has another.
    Note that we need not use ANY astrological vocabulary when dealing with clients, so this vocabulary should be considered technical lingo, terms understood by astrologers for astrologers.

    Arguably it is ill advised to use terminology like malefic to a client without at least explaining what its meant by it, purely because the common parlance understanding of the word, for certain people, may be confused with the notion of sin or evil. So an explanation, however brief, of what is meant by the term is usually advised. Yes we should distinguish between technical terminology we use in dialogue with our peers as opposed to our clients.
    You ask about therapeutic consultation – my advice would be let therapists make their own call on what they feel will provide the more benefit to their clients, in that for some, it may well be better to provide labels or a sense of “this is what that means” and for others it would be distracting. People are different. They respond to different things. Note though that astrologer is not a synonym for therapist, and so many astrologers do not engage in therapy. In terms of ethics and so on, perhaps a better focus to make might be in addressing whether a person who has read some material by therapists or psychological astrologers feel they are thus sufficiently qualified to act as therapeutic astrologers with no actual training in providing therapy. The good thing about traditionally oriented astrologers is that at least they do not advertise (typically) as providing therapy. They focus on providing astrology.
    You ask if astrology should have professional language like medicine – it already does. It has reserved terminology which are technical terms which mean something to astrologers which may not be clear to non-astrologers. Examples include “lot of fortune”, “benefic”, “malefic”, “transit”, “direction”, “domicile”, “fall”, “house cusp”, etc – hopefully you get the idea. We already have a language which is used by astrologers and expected to be understood really only by an astrological audience. Like in medicine, or law, some of these language terms are not english in origin and reflect an older tradition – “hyleg”, “cazimi”, “almuten”.

    I would argue that we do not need to think of astrology itself as having a function. But rather that astrologers have a use case in which astrology helps them resolve it. As a similar analogy, rocks are sharp and animals get itchy, so they can use rocks as tools to scratch themselves, but we enter a logical fallacy when we then conclude the function of rocks is to relieve itching in animals. Similarly astrology may or may not have a function, but, regardless, astrologers who have some need, can use it to achieve their purposes – it is therefore a tool which is used as a means to achieve some result. What that result is or what that use case is differs from person to person. Are consultations the only or even most appropriate context in which to discuss astrology? In my opinion absolutely not. Astrology is, for many, a tool to help gain greater self awareness or individuation. For others it is akin to keeping an eye on the weather so as to not be caught in a rain shower without an umbrella. For others it is to find their lost wallet. If astrology is a tool, it is a real swiss army knife – multifunctional and allowing the same tool to be leveraged to a wide variety of issues and contexts. Consultations may be the more important to professional astrologers as they are a chief source of providing income, and in the sense of discussing clients and ethics this is a valid context to study in particular. But there are others. If someone asks me where is my missing wallet, I do not need to enter into therapeutic consultation. If someone asks about a breakup, I may or may not delve further. All of these are valid.

    Can you expand what you mean by point 8? Regarding theory and practice, I’ve little to say. Practice helps refine technique, but it is usually fuelled by theory. Theory without practice can be useful in that others will tend to take up the practical aspect of your research or theories. An example may be the Gauqelin data – this provided research, which, controversial, was taken up by certain astrologers in practice. I find the idea of a practical or theoretical astrologer to be mostly moot. I define astrology as the relating of celestial phenomenon with meaning or correlating it with mundane or personal affairs. It is therefore a philosophy anyway, if you do any theoretical work you are engaging in that philosophy and ‘practicing’ it (even if not on clients). So for me the distinction is on whether you see other clients or not. And we need not reinvent the wheel there – there are many research psychologists who do not engage the majority of their time in therapeutic practice, and there are many psychologists who do not expand upon theoretical considerations. Same for physics or indeed computer systems and computer science, which you mention – many write research papers having never worked professionally within the field. Different focus for different people.
    Regarding the theory of evolution and astrology – I see no value, if you do, go for it. I do not apply the theory of evolution to the spread of knowledge because it seems to me devoid of any logic to do otherwise, if you think otherwise and find value, then great, I don’t, so I won’t.
    As for superiority between modern and traditional – nobody today who does astrology is anything but contemporary, and nobody today, provided they are not inventing it as they go along, is not influenced by the tradition. So in many ways the differences are illusory. We can be more or less inspired by techniques of course, some of which are entirely modern, some of which are rebranding of traditional ideas, and some of which are ignored by the majority of contemporary astrologers. We use whatever we want. Superiority in technique would require some objective study which actually validates any of astrology’s claims. None exists. So we use whatever we feel is best. I would prefer we focus instead on the client’s use case. If a client wants to predict when he’ll get a job, whilst psychological forms of astrology can look at why and help find peace with the situation, it won’t actually answer his question. Similarly the needing a shoulder to cry on or needing to talk through a difficult breakup and using astrology as a tool to help may be what the client needs. We focus then on the techniques and on the use cases that clients have.
    I don’t know what you mean by point 11 – you level of knowledge? Are we supposed to know what that is? Is this rhetorical? I am not sure where you were going with that.


  • Not everyone who goes to an astrologer has experienced a significant trauma that has taken the form of a wretched psychological complex that runs and often ruins their life. Just as we draw those into our lives who reflect some aspect of ourselves to ourselves, so too does an astrologer draw in those clients who have a need for that particular astrologer and their particular perspective. Some people want to know the mundane aspects of their existence; finances, married life, children, profession etc. and this astrology can give insight into quite well. Others may seek a more transformational kind of astrology and this too astrology can be used quite well for. In both situations there are strengths and weaknesses present in the chart; there are areas of the life that are more difficult and those that are more conducive to ease; there are areas of darkness and areas of light. Ancient astrology is not black and white, and in my opinion the techniques it offers can be used for psychological and transformational insights just as well, and possibly better, than many modern techniques. It’s not something that was as explicitly written about by most ancient astrologers but it is subtly implied by authors such as Bonatti when speaking on the lot of spirit or the pars hyleg in his treatise on arabic parts. It’s up to us to work out these techniques and then apply and use them. The idea that ancient, predictive, methods of reading a chart cannot be a “living transformational tool” is ridiculous, and it is clearly a misinformed perspective. I feel Mark Jone’s perspective is largely based on a misunderstanding or lack of study of the ancient methods and perspectives. The fact that he discusses Venus in Pisces not being that great in a friend’s chart shows that he is not considering the chart as a whole. Venus or any planet in Exaltation just means it will give super powerful Venusian results, but not that it won’t be in a precarious position and even give difficult or outwardly harmful results. In Jyotish, for example, a planet in its Exaltation does not necessarily mean it will be determined toward the “good”, again it just means power. If that Venus rules the 12th then it can give quite a lot of difficulties in its own way should other factors also point in that same direction.

  • When I first came to traditional astrology through the work of Demetra George and Chris, I came as a modern psychological and evolutionary astrologer, so I had a hard time getting my head around Mars and Saturn as malefic planets, and having “good” and “bad” places in an astrological chart, it kind of put me off. Happily, I persevered with Hellenistic astrology and now I see both points of view.

    At present, my strategy is to keep both traditions separate. I don’t mix them up. I find that Hellenistic astrology is very good at identifying any given chart’s strong and weak points. And once having identified those strong and weak points, the techniques for predicting when they will activate in a person’s life are powerful and go beyond what modern astrology can do with secondary progressions and transits, and the like.

    Once I’ve analyzed a chart using these techniques, then and only then do I feel free to draw upon modern techniques. I mean, why throw the baby out with the bathwater, right?

    Modern psychological and evolutionary techniques are great for helping the native to find strategies for dealing with the rough periods. Hellenistic astrology is best for identifying when these rough periods (or good ones) are likely to happen, and it does it with great accuracy and no wishy-washiness.

    So I would say that I am an advocate of both the approach of Chris, as well as the approach of Mark.
    I like ‘em both!

  • Coming at this as a socio-linguist (and a person with a Leo stellium in the 12th house), I’d like to suggest that astrologers think about how language keeps people listening, or creates fear and stops listening. I agree with your guest. I think astrology theory will be processed by the general public too so that all astrology writers should be mindful of what your guest is discussing.

  • Pluto, Chiron, Nodes. Guess we can just throw all the rest of astrology away. His entire practice is based on stuff that was all invented based on zero evidence.

  • This guest said a lot of nice things but it sounds like he does not believe that everyone has the potential to become a Phoenix and rise from the ashes. He points to the difference between spiritual awareness and the actual manifestation of one’s collective karma as a way to explain why even a spiritually evolved person might still experience and suffer from trauma. I believe that ALL people, whether they are spiritually evolved or not, suffering from collective karma or not, can heal their wounds and rise again. The problem is that there are limitations to talk therapy. The body also needs to be treated. John Barnes, PT says that memories and consciousness reside in the body’s fascial system. When we experience trauma we often get stuck in a state of “freeze” rather than fight or flight. We need to “unfreeze” ourselves (literally release the fascial restrictions) through myofascial release therapy. I highly recommend his book, Healing Ancient Wounds. This therapy even works on injured and traumatized animals who are considered to be at a low level of consciousness and spiritual development.

    Regarding the benefic/malefic discussion, as a Gemini rising with Mercury in Capricorn and Saturn in Virgo (and also as a writer with a BS in Communications) I would not choose these particular words to relay information in charts. In this day and age they do not translate the intended meaning well. They are confusing, worrisome, and turn people off. Labeling Saturn as malefic, negative, or bad is even misleading because without structure or self-discipline life would be even more stressful and chaotic. Also, the more extreme behaviors of Saturn and Mars are sometimes necessary to keep us safe, to move us forward, and to right wrongs. I see the value in preserving tradition, but there is also a time for evolution. I suppose if you want to continue using this type of lingo behind closed doors it could work, but not on a global podcast where anyone and everyone can listen in. This is like the issue of assigning gender to signs. It’s time to rethink some things. The words “challenging” and “difficult” are better options and will still validate the native’s struggles. Also, keep in mind that struggles really can be transformed into the highest forms of peace and prosperity. Perhaps, sometimes, one might even call them blessings.