The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 327, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Molly Pennington
Episode originally released on November 15, 2021
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released November 16, 2021
Copyright © 2021 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. In this episode, I’m going to be talking with Molly Pennington about 6 best astrology books for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students of astrology. So hey, Molly. Thanks for joining me today.
MOLLY PENNINGTON: Hi, Chris. I’m so happy to be here.
CB: Yeah, this is a little bit of an impromptu discussion. So the setup is that you are doing an assignment for Reader’s Digest where you’re putting together a list of the best astrology books according to different experts on astrology. And you asked me if we could do an interview for that list, and I decided to do it, but thought we would just record it for possible use on the podcast at the same time. So that’s kind of the setup here. Could you tell me a little bit about what you’re doing with your list?
MP: Yeah. And I just want to specify this is for ReadersDigest.com, and the list is going to be, say, 10 to 12 titles. And my editors asked for or recommended that maybe it be divided into books that are good for beginners and then those that are at the intermediate level and then also moving to advanced.
CB: Okay, brilliant. And you’ve already done one or two other lists in the past?
MP: This is going to be–depending on when it’s published–my third or fourth article on astrology for Reader’s Digest. For many years, I’ve worked as a freelance writer, and I’ve written, it’s safe to say, hundreds of articles for online and in-print magazines. But I’m new to writing about astrology, and I’m very, very excited to do so because I just fell in love with this topic about 18 months ago, maybe a little bit more.
CB: Okay, perfect. Well, this is good timing then. And your website is MollyPennington.com, right?
CB: Okay, cool. Well, I’ll put a link to your article once it’s out. If I do release this as a video on the website, I’ll put a link to it on the description page below this video on the podcast website, so that people can find out more information and see the final list with everything you put on it. But why don’t we go ahead and jump into it with the first recommendation, which is a book I just discovered actually a few years ago in Barnes & Noble, which is titled Astrology: Using the Wisdom of the Stars in Your Everyday Life by Carole Taylor.
And I actually interviewed her last summer, and we did an episode on the aspect doctrine or aspect patterns together. But this is just a really brilliant, comprehensive intro to astrology book that’s extremely well-illustrated. And that’s one of the things I like about it the most is not just that it’s comprehensive, but that it’s kind of easily digestible. And the graphic designer that she worked with in order to do the layout for the book just did an extremely brilliant job designing this book in order to make the content a little bit more understandable and easy to grasp through visual means, and that’s one of the reasons why this is actually my favorite intro to astrology book that I’ve been recommending for the past few years.
MP: Yeah, I am so glad that you mentioned this one because it’s one of my favorites, and it’s actually something that I somehow organically got my hands on. And it was something that I read very early and just fell in love with because it really does make the topics accessible somehow, and yet, it’s necessarily not deep. It gets into everything that you kind of need to know–things like aspects, which were very complicated for me at the beginning–and it makes them easy to understand. And in fact, I begged my mother to get this book, so that we could have conversations about astrology and our charts.
CB: I love that. Even though it’s comprehensive, she touches on just about every topic in astrology, so that you get a very broad overview, but also, somehow it’s still very concise. It’s not like a super dense book in the sense that some of the other books on my list will be more wordy and will be long paragraphs of very dense prose text, but this is actually much more concise and much more manageable. There’s also a lot of interpretive material. So you can look up your own birth chart placements and then use this book in order to understand what those placements mean and get some basic interpretations, which is just very crucial when you’re in the early stages of learning astrology.
MP: Yeah, yeah, I agree.
CB: Yeah, so this is my favorite intro to astrology book at this point. It does deal with the fourfold system primarily of the planets and their meanings or significations, the signs of the zodiac, the 12 signs and their meanings, and then the doctrine of aspects, which is configurations or relationships between planets, and then, finally, the doctrine of the 12 houses, which are the 12 sectors or areas of life that deal with different topics or different people in a person’s life, as well as different things like career, or friends, or travel, or things like that.
So her book is primarily dedicated to sort of explicating that system from more of a, I would say, modern astrological standpoint. She does have some influences from traditional astrology and definitely more of a British influence because Carole’s from the UK. But for the most part, I think it represents a pretty good intro to what we would call modern or contemporary astrology that’s been developed over the past century in the West.
MP: Okay, yeah, I remember that from when I was first learning how to look at a chart, and it just seemed really like a different language, which is what it was. And I just want to concur with precisely what you’re saying that the way she lays everything out, suddenly, as you go through, just step by step, you’re able to see, I was able to see into charts and see into the wide array of the different subjects and topics: planets, houses, etc.
CB: Yeah. And one of the things that’s important is that everybody, once they decide to sit down and actually learn astrology at this point in time, your primary thing is, first, getting a copy of your birth chart from a reliable website like Astro.com. There’s another website called Astro-Seek that’s become very popular over the past few years. And then I also recommend getting a copy of your birth chart from that and then sitting down with a book like this and going through it; that’s usually most people’s primary access point for learning that language of astrology.
And you used the term ‘language’, which is a really good analogy to use here because astrology is like learning a language. It has its own alphabet with the symbols for the different planets and the signs of the zodiac, and then it has different ways of putting those together to form words and sentences when you’re reading a birth chart, so it really is like learning a new language in some sense.
MP: Yeah, yeah, exactly, especially with the glyphs and with the symbols. When you first look, you really don’t know what those mean, and you need a good, solid introduction, so that you’re able to put all of the different pieces together.
CB: Yeah. So that’s one of the reasons I like this book because it’s not too dense and too overwhelming and that’s something I worry about sometimes for new people. Astrology is already something that’s so vast. It’s something that people dedicate their entire lives to studying and still only are able to master some piece of this really vast subject or vast field.
And so, when you’re first getting into astrology, if you end up with the wrong book or you end up with a book that’s too advanced, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and maybe like this isn’t for you if you get turned away by an overly-dense book or something like that. So that’s one of the reasons why this is a good book, just because I think it’s approachable for just about everybody for the most part.
MP: Yes. Also, it has a ‘friendly’ vibe. It’s very inviting. I think you mentioned the artwork and the graphic design, but it really does have this very inviting feel that kind of pulls you in without intimidation.
CB: Yeah, for sure. And it does touch, also, very briefly on things like the history or some bits of the philosophy of astrology for the most part, though it’s more of a practical book. And in the later parts of the book, it’s divided into this section on understanding yourself and looking at different topics that people are usually interested in historically when it comes to looking at their birth chart: like this is what you’d look for, for career matters, or this is what you’d look at for relationships, or this is what you’d look out for education and travel or something.
And I think that’s important as well because different people approach astrology or learn astrology for different reasons. And sometimes most books will approach it from one angle, whereas this kind of gives you a little bit of everything, so there’s something for everyone.
MP: Yeah, you’re right. I’m recalling now that section at the end. You are introduced to all of the tools and then she offers a range of different ways to apply those to a variety of different aspects of our lives. I think there’s finances, even some–I can’t remember exactly–but maybe even things like grief or loss or things like that.
CB: Yeah. And one of the tricky things with astrology is it can get into some really heavy topics, and if that subject is truly going to be able to cover every part of a person’s life, then it’s got to be able to deal with some of the more difficult things, as well as some of the more positive things. This book does a pretty good job of giving an overview without necessarily getting into super depressing topics necessarily. I think some of the other books on our list are more suited for some of the more intense stuff, but this one’s a good one for sort of an overview.
MP: Right, right. And just conceptualizing how the different pieces would come into play, I am very recently a beginner; so for me, learning astrology, it’s so close in my memory how it felt. And it is so conceptual in terms of taking the different pieces, and her book really offers a way for how to even begin doing that.
CB: Right, for sure. All right, so I think that might be it for that book, unless you have any other questions about it or anything else we should mention before we move on.
MP: No. Thanks, Chris. You did a fantastic job of explaining all of that book’s strengths and characteristics.
CB: Okay, cool. Yeah, the biggest one is just this is definitely the most well-illustrated book on our list, which is important because there are so many technical concepts in astrology that are visual or representations of visual phenomenon. It’s very important to have, especially nowadays, when so many people are learning from the internet first, where you can have audio and moving pictures from YouTube and things like that.
I mean, I feel almost old or dated even saying that, but the fact of it is sometimes learning from books may not be a person’s initial starting point. It just provides a more comfortable transition point for some people that might be more comfortable learning from YouTube to have a book that’s not just text, but is also very well-done from a visual standpoint to help sort of hold your hand or guide you through that process.
MP: I’m so glad you brought that up. That’s a wonderful point because I often use just the digital version for my Kindle. And this is a book that I have laid around with and spread out and put on the floor and had my charts on top of it. I just can’t express how valuable that aspect is.
CB: Yeah. One other thing I should mention, there’s different versions of this book. One of the things that’s cool is I think it’s taken off. I started recommending it a few years ago and then I noticed it was getting more popular. And I think it has some translations. I think there’s a Spanish translation of this book, and there may be other translations of this book. Actually another really great aspect of it is accessibility and not just being available in that print format, but being available in different languages, having different e-book versions around.
And also, there’s a shorter version of this book, which is basically the same book, but I think it chops off the last third of the book or something like that where it deals with the individual topics, and instead, it just keeps the basic intro stuff; and it’s called something like The Secret Language of Astrology. And it’s almost presented as if it’s more like a kids or young adult version of the book, but it’s basically just a shorter version. And the price is so similar that usually I recommend going with the one I’m recommending here with this title, just because it’s only like a dollar more. So it’s worth it just to pay to get the full thing.
MP: Oh, that’s great. That’s good to know.
CB: Yeah, they’ve even got a special edition. Have you seen those books in Barnes & Noble that are like fancy editions of classic books?
CB: I think they actually used the same company to print up a super fancy, hardcover edition of this book that actually looks really nice as well. So for those that want the really fancy version of this book, that’s also out there as well.
MP: Yes, that would be nice.
CB: Yeah. All right, so let’s move to the second book on my list, which is a book that just came out I believe in the early 2020s. It was right before the pandemic.
CB: It was one of the last times that I went out and I got a book in person at Barnes & Noble the day it came out; and this is a book titled You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance by Chani Nicholas.
And this is another amazing intro to astrology book, and it’s one of the top books that I’ve been recommending for people that are brand new to astrology because this book really focuses in particular on a certain aspect of the birth chart, which is the Sun, Moon, and rising sign, as well as the planet that rules the rising sign, otherwise known as the ‘ruler of the Ascendant’. Even though it does give you an overview and an ability to analyze the entire birth chart, it’s not quite as comprehensive Carole Taylor’s book, but that’s because it’s more focused on the crucial parts of the chart or one of the most crucial parts of the chart, which is your Sun, Moon, and rising signs.
And one of the things that’s interesting, the last time that astrology had a major revival in popular culture–when some of the people that were born in the 1940s came of age with the hippies and the counterculture generation of the late 1960s, around 1968 or so–there was a super popular book that was published, which was Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs in 1968, which I believe may still be the highest-selling astrology book certainly of modern times; not sure of all times, maybe. There are some other books, like Ptolemy’s, that have been around for like 2,000 years, so it’s kind of hard to beat that one.
But at that time, in the 1960s and ‘70s, it became really common and popular for people to ask, “What’s your sign?” and when that was stated, it always meant, “What is your Sun sign?” But in the past decade, it’s actually become more common now to ask people, “What is your Sun, Moon, and rising sign?” or what’s sometimes known as your ‘Big 3’.
And I really like that because it’s this emerging realization in the public consciousness that astrology is more than just one sign, or one zodiac sign, but it actually consists of a number of different planetary placements in different signs of the zodiac, starting with the three most important for one’s personality, which are your Sun sign, your Moon sign, and your Ascendant or rising sign.
MP: I mean, that’s such a great point. And when you were talking about going in and getting it in person right at the start of the pandemic…
CB: Right before the pandemic.
MP: Oh, right–right before.
MP: And the timing in my own life, in my own interests is marked there. And I’m wondering if you can talk about maybe the influence of this book in–at least what I’ve heard or what’s being called–maybe a growing or a new popularity in astrology in our larger culture?
CB: Yeah, something happened in the past few years. And it’s funny because there’s a podcast episode that happened right at the turning point where it was starting to happen–but I wasn’t sure yet if it was really a thing, or if it was just something the media was overhyping–which was this sudden surge in the popularity of astrology, especially with the younger generation of people in their teens and 20s, and maybe 30s.
So in Episode 139 of The Astrology Podcast, which I did with Dayna Lynn Nuckolls and Jessica Lanyadoo, we talked about this, and the release date was January 11, 2018. Because what had happened is there had just been a sudden flurry of articles in the media, I think starting with a New York Times article, talking about how astrology seemed to be getting suddenly more popular recently.
And so, at the time in this podcast episode, if you listen to it, we discussed both sides of the question of is astrology actually getting more popular or is it actually just a media thing and it’s actually becoming less popular. Because at the time, one of the things that was notable was that for the past several years before that there had been less and less astrology books published for a number of years, and astrology books were kind of disappearing from the shelves just because they weren’t being published as much.
On the one hand, it wasn’t clear if that was due to a decrease in the interest in astrology or if it was just a side effect of the publishing industry going through this weird transition as physical book stores were becoming less and less common and everything that goes along with that, like with the rise of Amazon and things like that. So I was actually a little skeptical at the time, but then it turned out by the end of the year the answer was like, no, there really was a sudden surge in the popularity of astrology, which continued and got even bigger and bigger and more intense over the next two years.
One of the really interesting things that came along with that surge in the popularity of astrology with the younger generation–of people in their teens and 20s and 30s–is that suddenly the astrological community, which had been a little bit more monocultural–if I’m using the correct word–since the 1960s suddenly became much more diverse. And there was a much greater cross-section of Americans who were getting interested in it, but the type of astrology that they were encountering at the time was largely the type that had been talked about and taught and written about in astrology books from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s from the people that came from the hippy generation of the 1960s.
So one of the things that started happening is you started seeing this new wave of astrologers coming up and a more diverse wave of astrologers coming up and starting to write astrology books that were more reflective of their communities and their concerns and their focus as astrologers. And I think Chani’s book is one of the first books, or it’s one of several books that came out in the past few years that really reflects this change and this turn in the tide of astrology books and who they’re being written for. Not that they’re necessarily targeting, but they’re being more conscious of the types of people that they’re having consultations with and the communities that they’re actually serving or trying to help in their astrological practices.
MP: Does this book, You Were Born for This, incorporate aspects of memoir?
CB: I’m not sure I would say memoir. I mean, it is primarily an interpretative book for learning especially about your Sun, Moon, and rising, and learning about the basics of the birth chart and how to interpret your birth chart, I think it’s just doing so in a way that’s trying to be much more inclusive than most astrology books were prior to that time.
MP: And relatable, I think, as well. Yeah, it seemed to have come in and been a part of this cultural moment that you were describing, where students of astrology, people who are interested can see a way–we’ve been calling it a language–to use the language. And it’s suddenly expansive as well, as you’ve mentioned. It’s not just the Sun sign, which is really so much of what a lot of the popular cultural articles and media have been about, but it starts to include the other pieces.
CB: Yeah, definitely. And also, with the language thing, one question that comes up that I think was in an article or a lecture that was given by Alice Sparkly Kat–who’s another person that I know that you’ve interviewed for this list as well, or will interview–and they asked…
MP: I’m sorry, not for this list. I interviewed Alice Sparkly Kat for a different Reader’s Digest piece on the zodiac elements.
CB: Okay, got it, but for another astrology article. The question was, “if astrology is a language, then who’s language is it?” And one of the points was just that if it’s astrology is a language, then that language is going to be adapted for different people in a way that’s appropriate relative to their cultural norms and their own attitudes towards things like morality or sexuality, sexual orientation, gender orientation and other things that are changing categories that are rapidly growing in modern times, where if you look back at an astrology book that was published even a decade, two decades, or three decades ago, it may look wildly out of date compared to current cultural norms.
CB: Yeah, I think in terms of my list, Chani’s book is one of the most sensitive to some of those changes that have happened in astrology over the past decade or two, in terms of current changing cultural norms and what is the appropriate use and application of astrology in that context versus what might be not appropriate or harmful, or what have you.
MP: And am I correct that it’s a bestseller?
CB: Yeah, I think it was on The New York Times bestseller list. I’ve got a hardback from before that happened, but I think you’ve got one that may say on the side of the softcover version that it’s a bestseller at this point.
MP: One of the things that I love about this is I bought mine at Target. And it was just so exciting to see astrology content for sale in some place like that; there’s a sense of the topic being accepted. And in a previous life, when I was an academic, I was very interested in popular culture. And so, I love to see astrology becoming popular because I think of that not necessarily only as something that can kind of flattens the topic or is simple, but is something that’s very shared and very powerful, and I love the accessibility of things that are popular. So I don’t always see things that are popular and mainstream in any kind of negative light, but see them as having a kind of special place in the ways ideas are circulating for the most amount of people.
CB: Yeah, totally. And in this instance, this one’s really cool for me because I know Chani as a serious, awesome, really good astrologer who has done really good work and has consulted with people for years. And she studied under very respectable and famous astrologers; one of them is one of my own teachers, Demetra George, and one of her books will be later on this list. But she gives a very touching shoutout to Demetra in the acknowledgement, at the very end of the book, as one of her teachers.
So one of the things that’s cool about this book is despite it going mainstream and being available on shelves in places like Target and stuff, it’s actually a pretty serious astrology book and it’s good astrology. It’s not just an astrology book that was written by somebody that isn’t very good or that is just–I don’t know how to say it–like a celebrity astrologer or something like that who isn’t very well-read or has only been doing it for a few months or something like that.
This is a book that’s serious and well-done and also broke into the mainstream, which is really impressive and is something to celebrate among professional astrologers that do this for a living seriously and want to see the best content out there getting the most views, as opposed to, let’s say, some astrology memes or something like that, that were just put out by somebody who may not necessarily even believe in astrology, but may just be doing that to generate content, views, or something like that.
MP: Okay. Yeah, I agree. I just want to echo what you said. I’ve seen this book be recommended with passion by people. I’ve seen a person clutch it to their chest for how much they love it and how much it means to them. So I think it’s important to notice those kinds of aspects about it too, that this could very well be a beginning book that’s your introduction, that you will also love very much.
CB: Yeah, definitely. Two other unique points about this book, one, Chani also recently just in the past year finally launched an app for mobile phones called the CHANI app. And it actually works really well with the book because it will calculate your birth chart for you and tell you what all of the planetary positions are and also give you some interpretations for those positions.
So it’s kind of a nice and reliable way to calculate your chart and then sort of use the book at the same time in order to learn more about it, and I like that synergy between the book and the app. Unfortunately, the app is only available currently for iPhones. But I think it is going to come out for Android at some point in the future.
MP: Okay, nice. Yeah, that’s a great point too. And what a time to be alive.
CB: Yeah. I mean, that’s been a huge revolution in and of itself is just the rise of mobile astrology apps. When I learned astrology around the year 2000, I discovered Astro.com. And just the ability to calculate your birth chart for free on this website was a huge revolution in and of itself 20 years ago because prior to that time, even 10 years before that, before the rise of the personal computer, in order to do astrology, you had to learn how to calculate a birth chart by hand. And that required two or three, or sometimes four reference books, and it takes a while to learn how to do that and be good at understanding and doing the mathematics behind calculating the astronomical positions that are represented in a person’s birth chart, and it’s kind of easy to mess it up if you’re not very good at math and numbers and things like that.
So one of the things that’s happened over the past 20 years is there’s been this huge rise in the accessibility of astrology so that you don’t have to be a mathematical genius or an astronomer in some instances. Many of the ancient astrologers were also astronomers because they needed to have that training in order to calculate charts.
Nowadays, with things like this book and the app that you can get with it, anybody can get their birth chart calculated very easily. And then really the main focus just becomes learning the interpretive art of how to interpret and read a birth chart, which is really what’s most important in astrology, even if you don’t necessarily understand all of the complicated coding and mathematics underlying it.
MP: Right. That’s such a great point. It sounds like what you’re summarizing about these introductory books is that they really allow a way in, not just because they’re popular, but there’s a different accessibility now. I worry that I would have, or somebody like me would have given up–even though I was so obsessed–simply because the calculations and the other kinds of really technical nuances would have been really difficult for me. But now, I, just at my fingertips, am able to access charts. It really is just astounding and also something that I deeply appreciate.
CB: Yeah, for sure. And that’s just part of making astrology more accessible. It’s lowered the barriers to entry, which I think is really important. It’s also lowered the barriers of entry economically or class-wise. Astrology is now more accessible than it’s ever been at any other time in history probably; even though certainly there have been other times in history where astrology’s been more accepted culturally or belief in astrology has been more pervasive in some ways or on some level.
In terms of actual accessibility, that’s one of the major sea changes that’s happened over the past decade or so, not just due to the rise of astrology on the internet, but also, through the rise of astrology apps, including, now recently, Chani’s app.
CB: Yeah, there’s also been a number of other apps that have become popular over the past few years with the rise of astrology, and I’ve done an episode on some of them in the past. But that’s been another reason why this book is important because everybody at this point knows what their Sun, Moon, and rising is, or that’s become common knowledge in the same way that 20 years ago, just knowing your Sun sign was common knowledge.
But even if people know what their Sun, Moon, and rising is they don’t always know what that actually means, and this is probably the best book for figuring that out on my list because it’s specifically designed in particular to focus on those three points and explaining what they mean about different aspects of your personality, as well as your life in general.
MP: I love that. And especially for beginners, it’s so fun. It really is quite pleasurable in addition to being illuminating when all of it opens up past your Sun sign, which is really, as you say, what most of us are familiar with.
CB: Yeah. And that’s a really exciting point once you realize that there’s more to astrology than just a single sign. When it’s presented in that way of just you’re 1 out of 12 signs, that’s already something that seems easy to dismiss because obviously everybody in the world doesn’t fall into 1 of 12 categories.
But that moment that you realize there’s also a Moon sign and an Ascendant sign, it’s the first moment where astrology starts to open up, or the world of astrology starts to open up, and you start realizing it’s actually much more complex than you may have realized previously, or that most people realize. So the next step is to figure out how complex it actually gets and how much more accurate it gets once you get past that initial starting point.
MP: Precisely. Yes.
CB: Yeah, so the last thing about this book–I hope I don’t forget anything else–but it wins my award for coolest cover on the list because it has this amazing reflective rainbow design in the title, which reflects back different patterns depending on the reflection of the light on it. So I think that’s like easily the coolest cover award on my list.
MP: I agree. My paperback does that too; that kind of rainbow shimmer or holographic element is not as pronounced. But again, it’s one of these details that’s related to design and seems basic, but it really does kind of foretell the journey or the entry that the reader’s about to take as they enter into the topic and enter into the book. Astrology–I often think of it as prismatic because it has so many different geometries and different sides, and this detail you mention truly perfectly reflects that.
CB: Prismatic, I love that. That’s the perfect word for this book and the way that it approaches astrology and opens up and makes it more accessible to many different people that are coming from different backgrounds, that may not be the traditional background that astrology books were only written for 20, 30, or 40 years ago.
CB: All right, so that is my second recommendation. And those are my two main intro beginner books, and I usually recommend people get both of those right at the start; so those are my first two. Actually one last point before I fully transfer out of that book, one last point I wanted to mention really briefly is just that Chani Nicholas also does a really good job. The very first book that I recommended, Carole Taylor’s book, is definitely more modern 20th century astrology, the type of astrology that had developed in the West by the late 20th century, especially in the English-speaking world, and some of the different technical innovations and developments that had come with that.
Over the past 20 or 30 years though, there’s been a rise in interest since the 1980s and 1990s in older forms of astrology where astrologers started going back and looking at what astrology looked like prior to the 20th century, sometimes as far back as thousands of years ago, and studying older texts on astrology. And in some instances, entire translation projects were set up in the early 1990s in order to translate these older texts, and then astrologers started reading from them and learning from them and reviving some of the older techniques.
So for the most part, Carole Taylor’s book does not focus on that. However, in Chani Nicholas’ book, she studied both modern astrology and ancient astrology with certain teachers, like Demetra George. So that gives Chani’s book a unique take where I consider it to be one of the first mainstream astrology books that represents a synthesis of modern and ancient astrology, which, to me, is a really ideal mixture, to take sort of the best of both worlds and blend them together. And that’s one of the other really great selling points and reasons why I recommend this as one of my two best, first intro to astrology books.
MP: Absolutely. That’s a great point to mention.
CB: Yeah. So that is actually a nice transition point for my next book, which is the third book on my list, which has been on my list for most of the past decade; and definitely, I think I’ve been recommending it for like 10 years now. And definitely, in the last popular list that I did in 2017, which was like the top six books, it was one of the books on my list. It’s returning to my list here because it’s one of the best intro to traditional astrology books, and it’s titled On the Heavenly Spheres: A Treatise on Traditional Astrology by Helena Avelar and Luis Ribiero.
So this book was actually written by a couple of astrologers from Portugal. I think the first version of the book was actually written in Portuguese in 2007, I want to say. But this version of the book was translated into English and published by the American Federation of Astrologers in 2010 or 2011. It came out in one of those years about 10 years ago now.
And what this book is, is it’s a very good introduction to what we call ‘traditional astrology’, which is the type of astrology that was practiced roughly between the 1st century BCE through the 17th century CE, largely in Europe over that time frame basically. And that’s what we refer to as traditional astrology, Western astrology because it was practiced prior to modern times and also prior to the discovery of the outer planets, such as Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which started being discovered after the 17th century.
So this is a very comprehensive introduction to that type of astrology. It especially focuses on the Medieval astrological tradition and the Renaissance astrological tradition. And I want to say that it has more of an emphasis on the Medieval and Renaissance approach rather than some of the earlier Hellenistic approaches, but for the most part, it’s pretty good for traditional astrology.
And the other thing is that aside from being comprehensive, it’s also incredibly well-illustrated because Luis is a graphic designer. And he designed these beautiful diagrams to explain every single concept in the book, which is extremely useful when you’re talking about some really complicated concepts. Even though it’s an intro to astrology book, it’s an intro to traditional astrology, so it’s more in the intermediate realm. And they get into some much more complex things from traditional astrology, including complex aspect doctrines like ‘transfer of light’ and ‘collection of light’, and some things that were used in horary and electional astrology in the Medieval period that are very useful, but they’re a little bit of a step up from some of the more basic concepts that we were talking about in the previous two books.
MP: Okay. Yeah, that was something that I wanted to ask you about. For people who are going to move from the beginner level up to intermediate, describe or lay out what they need to have as a foundation, so that they can really get into this next book that you recommend. Because I often do this–I enjoy reading something that I don’t quite understand. That’s maybe a peculiar tick for me to kind of jump into the deep end and just kind of work your way through. So can you maybe speak to what level people should have, or what this experience will be like to dive into this book?
CB: Sure. I mean, I think you could start studying it relatively early. But just in order to not be completely overwhelmed and intimidated, I would say start with the previous two books, especially the first book, Carole Taylor’s book, so that you can learn the basic layout of a chart and that fourfold system of planets, signs, houses, and aspects; and especially so you can learn first the symbols–so you can recognize in a birth chart what is the symbol for Mercury, or what is the symbol for the sign Virgo, or what have you–so that you have that basic stuff underlying you already. And then you can get into a book like this where it starts taking some of those concepts and putting them together to form much more complex sentences.
And this book in particular, there’s a shift. Because it’s more on traditional astrology, it tends to be more focused on predictive astrology, which is a little bit different than more modern astrological books that tend to be more about character analysis and looking at one’s psychology through the birth chart. When you get into traditional astrology, you start looking at the birth chart with some of that. It does take some character analysis and psychology into account, but it also shifts the focus to much more of an emphasis on predicting concrete events in a person’s life based on their birth chart. So there’s not just a shift in terms of techniques, but also, in terms of tone and focus and the scope in which you’re applying astrology.
Whereas the first two books were more focused on just natal astrology and learning how to read a birth chart, or your birth chart in particular, when you start getting into traditional astrology, you realize there’s also other branches of astrology, which are different applications of astrology that can be different than just looking at birth charts.
So one of the other branches of astrology is called ‘mundane astrology’, and this is where you’re looking at world events that affect large groups of people, such as, for example, the pandemic that happened last year and when the lockdowns took place and started happening seriously, especially in the West, under that huge stellium or pileup of planets that happened in the sign of Capricorn, especially in the March and April time frame of 2020. So that’s mundane astrology, looking at world events.
There’s ‘electional astrology’, which is selecting auspicious dates and times in the future in order to begin different ventures and undertakings, under the premise that there are some dates that are going to be more successful and there are other dates that are going to be less successful times to act. There’s also ‘horary astrology’–which I believe this book touches on briefly–which is casting a chart for the moment that an astrologer receives a question, with the premise that the chart for that moment will describe not just the nature of the question, but also, it’s outcome or the answer to the question in some sense.
MP: So this is a good book to look at to get a kind of broad overview of maybe not just the very important history of astrology, but also, the different genres, categories, or types of astrology that exist.
CB: Yeah, definitely. It gives you a much broader scope of the full technical apparatus of astrology that is outside of just birth charts. Even though it’s still largely focused on birth charts, it gives you a glimpse into other specialized areas of astrology, which the reader may or may not choose to fully pursue. But it’s good as part of your initial studies to get that broad overview and have some exposure so that you know what’s out there and you know what’s available.
MP: Yeah, I agree. And I’m sure we’re going to talk more about why history is important as we move on to other books. But do you want to talk a little bit about that now, for maybe anybody listening or for me and my piece for Reader’s Digest? I find history fun and fascinating. But how would you describe this book as really being something definitely to learn astrology? There’s something so vital and important about delving into the past, the beginning, or where things started I always find fascinating. But we’re thinking of people who maybe aren’t quite that ‘nerdy’ but still have a passion or an interest in the topic.
CB: Right. I mean, there’s other books that will get a little bit more into the history on my list that I’ll mention later. But the important thing with one is it does start to provide you with more historical context on the history of astrology and its very long legacy that stretches back 2-, 3-, or 4,000 years.
And the most important thing about this book is that the revival of traditional astrology started happening in the 1980s and the 1990s when astrologers started translating texts and reading these texts and then trying to put those techniques into practice. But it was a long time before astrologers had been doing that for long enough and taking some of those ancient techniques and putting them into practice before anybody was comfortable writing an intro to astrology book that was purely based on the ancient methods of traditional astrology.
This is one of the first books–and it came out in 2010–that successfully gave you kind of an overview of traditional astrology, but in a modern format; in a book that was published in 2010. So it was the first time that you could learn traditional astrology without having to pick up a translation of an ancient text and try to read that and try to understand what an author from a thousand years ago or 2,000 years ago said who originally wrote in a different language, like Greek, Latin, or Arabic, that had then been translated into English.
So it’s actually kind of difficult and not everybody has the mind for it or–not aptitude. But it’s almost like a skill set that some people have and other people don’t of being able to pick up a translation and read it and understand what the author is saying. It’s kind of a difficult thing to do and it creates another, again, barrier to entry; and that means that traditional astrology was inaccessible for a lot of people for a very long time.
In the 1990s, there was a translation project that was producing translations, and lots of contemporary astrologers subscribed to it just in order to support it. But then they would be sent these translations, and they would pick it up and look at it and the translation wouldn’t make any sense. Because even though they knew modern astrology, they didn’t have enough background in ancient astrology and the specialized vocabulary that was used by the ancient astrologers to really be able to read a translation and get much from it. So they would put the translation down and it didn’t really influence the practice of many astrologers in the 1990s and early 2000s.
This couple, Helena Avelar and Luis Ribeiro, were two of the first astrologers really early on that got into those translations, understood them, and also, had some language skills, so that they could read some of those books in their original languages. And then they started putting those techniques into practice using them with clients, and then also eventually teaching them to students.
Traditional astrology became a living thing again, and they learned how to teach it best to students. And this book partially represents a sort of culmination of their practice teaching students traditional astrology in that they figured out how to do that on a more general scale to make it approachable, understandable, and accessible to the contemporary astrologer.
MP: Oh, it sounds fascinating. I can’t wait to get this one, listening to you describe it. And again, I feel like you set us up at the beginning, and now, as we move to intermediate, it’s, again, a book or a research project that allows entry into topics that really until quite recently were pretty inaccessible. So again, it feels like a very fortunate time for people interested to delve in.
CB: Yeah, it’s an amazing time. There’s never been a time in the history of astrology in which so many translations of texts and so much knowledge from the past astrological traditions have been available to contemporary astrologers all at once, where you can go back and you can learn all of this stuff firsthand from translations of ancient texts of which there’s hundreds at this point from the past 2- or 3,000 years.
But just about nobody can pick up the text of Ptolemy, Guido Bonatti, or somebody like that and just learn astrology from scratch from those. You need some sort of primer in order to get an entryway into those texts, and this is one of the first successful primers in modern times. And the couple, the two, I’ve interviewed them on The Astrology Podcast before are just very brilliant astrologers, both of which over the past decade went back to school and got their PhDs in the study of ancient history, and did PhD dissertations focusing on the history of astrology and focusing on, in some instances, the recovery or the study of ancient texts.
Unfortunately, one of the authors, Helena Avelar, passed away just earlier this year unexpectedly in March. Her book, which was the publication of her PhD thesis, actually just came out a few months later, and I just interviewed her husband, Luis Ribeiro, about that. But that book is titled An Astrologer at Work in Late Medieval France: The Notebooks of S. Belle.
So there’s this interesting thing with traditional astrology where because you’re studying ancient history, it starts bringing in academic disciplines of the study of history, classics, philology, the ability to read handwritten manuscripts by ancient authors, learning ancient languages, and all sorts of other academic skills. I know it’s one of the reasons why you get to more of an intermediate stage at this point, and it’s because when you start studying traditional astrology, you start studying not just predictive astrology, but there’s this whole broader world of the history of astrology that also opens up to you.
MP: Yeah, that’s fascinating–the connection that it had for both of these authors to academia, and I don’t think I know much about that crossover. I just wanted to mention I’m so sorry about that author’s passing, and thank you for recommending what sounds like a truly extraordinary project.
CB: Yeah. I mean, the good thing is that Helena, before she passed away, I did an interview with her–actually almost two years ago–on The Astrology Podcast. It was Episode 225, titled ‘Helena Avelar and Luis Ribeiro on Traditional Astrology’. And both of them were very active in the astrological community in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but then they kind of disappeared for several years. And I found out later, once they started coming back, circa 2018-2019, that the reason that they disappeared was both of them had gone into academia and had gotten their PhDs and what they had been focused on was intense research.
And interestingly, in the meantime, while they were gone, their book had become very influential in the astrological community because it was one of the only really comprehensive treatments of traditional astrology that anybody had published at that point in modern times. And in that interview in October of 2019 with Helena and Luis, I was luckily able to let Helena know how much influence her book had actually had on the astrological community, and that there was an entire generation of astrologers that were getting into traditional astrology and getting excited about it because of their book, and that their book had become very popular and very influential on a whole generation of astrologers even though they weren’t fully aware of that over the course of the past decade.
So even though it’s really incredibly tragic that she passed away so unexpectedly and so young, at least she was able to complete some really influential works, and she was able to know that her work was influencing people in a really profound way. And I think there’s something really beautiful and moving about that.
MP: Yeah, I agree. I’m looking forward to getting this one in particular and diving in. I mean, I’m looking forward also to her dissertation that you just mentioned as well. That’s truly fascinating, and it would give the audience for this an idea of just how vast it goes. And I think you mentioned at some point that astrology is so vast that it would be a lifelong project of learning for anyone, including scholars; that it’s just neverending.
CB: Yeah, exactly. It’s a really vast field, but sometimes you find some piece of it that really interests you, and it becomes something you specialize in, and it becomes a motivating factor to learn all of these other things that can help you to improve your ability to study and specialize in that one area of astrology. So in her instance, it was learning ancient languages, and Helena had an aptitude for learning different languages.
Her main language was Portuguese, but she also learned French and Latin. What she did was go back with her dissertation and revived the work–she found these two notebooks in two libraries in Europe–of an astrologer who lived in the 15th century in France, who had written his private notes about astrology and birth charts of his children, his cousins, and different things like that. And nobody had ever heard of this astrologer before, and she rediscovered his notebooks and then did a dissertation about it showing how these private notebooks showed the actual working practice of somebody that practiced and believed in astrology in the 15th century.
So for her, it was studying all the things related to that in terms of history, but for other people that get into astrology, they get into other specialized areas of it, like ‘financial astrology’, for example, or ‘medical astrology’. There’s many different applications of astrology to many different areas of life, and all of those areas then become things where you have to learn not just astrology, but also, some of the things that go with it in order to be truly good at that specialized subset.
MP: Yeah, and I think we’ve talked about the ‘new’ popularity, we can call it, of astrology. And I think it might not be generally known that astrology is ancient and that astrology is a really prominent part of many, many histories.
CB: Yeah, and that it’s influenced the history and culture of many different societies over the past several thousand years where it’s just embedded in our culture in ways that we don’t even realize. For example, the story of the Star of Bethlehem in the Gospel of Matthew, at the very beginning of Christianity, was an astrological story about some sort of celestial alignment that indicated the birth of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus, or what have you, and that story had a very explicit astrological context when it was written in the 1st century. And there’s things like that that are sort of embedded in our cultural memory sometimes that we take for granted that we don’t even realize are coming from the influence of astrology.
MP: Mm-hmm, that the foundation of the ways that we understand basic conceptions of both space and time have an astrological origin; that is largely not something that’s thought about in a broad way.
CB: Yeah, space, time, but also, things like fate, free will. Simple things, like celebrating one’s birthday every year, celebrating the return of the Sun back to the exact position it was when you were born, 365 days or so. There’s lots of different things like that that are ultimately astrological in origin that we just sort of take for granted. And learning about the history of astrology is sometimes reconnecting and realizing those things that we’re taking for granted historically or culturally.
MP: That sounds like a great recommendation then.
CB: Very good book. I know Luis is going to republish it at some point in the not too distant future with an updated version. Because I think they already updated the Portuguese version a few years ago, but presumably it’ll have the same title or something close to it. All right, so that is actually only my third recommendation. My fourth recommendation–and she has several books–but the one I’m going to recommend for the purpose of this list, that’s a little bit more beginner, is a book titled Astrology and the Authentic Self: Integrating Traditional and Modern Astrology to Uncover the Essence of the Birth Chart by Demetra George.
So this is a book that came out I believe in 2008 or 2009, and I was talking earlier about how there hadn’t really been by the late 2000s anybody that had done a successful intro to traditional astrology book. But the other part was that it wasn’t just that; but also, nobody had taken the next step after that, which was to do an intro to astrology book that represented a synthesis of both traditional astrology or ancient astrology and modern astrology, where you took astrology that had developed in the late 20th century and include all of the advancements that had occurred over the past several centuries–like the discovery of the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto–and synthesized the knowledge of the previous 2,000 years of the practice of Western astrology at the same time.
And this book by Demetra George is one of the first truly successful attempts to synthesize modern and ancient astrology in recent times and do it in a way that is accessible, straightforward and somewhat simple, but does not sacrifice any of its intellectual integrity at the same time. So it’s a really good intermediate book that I recommend at this stage. Because once you start getting some of the traditional background from, for example, Helena and Luis’ book is good to take you to that next step, which I believe is–I hate using this term–an ‘evolution’ in astrology in terms of their being some progression.
The next step after the revival of traditional astrology is the synthesis of ancient and traditional astrology with contemporary astrology. There are some authors and there are some astrologers that want to go back and just practice traditional astrology, and one of their mottoes was “The old ways are the good ways,” or something like that, and they want to go back and practice what they see as some ‘purer’ form of astrology that’s more predictive, more concrete, and is not overly-psychological or distracted with modern concepts, like outer planets, asteroids, or other things like that.
And while there’s some validity to that approach, I know that’s the approach you’ll actually find in Helena and Luis’ book, more of a strict, traditional astrology; that you should practice astrology like it was practiced up until about the 17th century, and there’s a certain elegance to that. There’s another school of thought which is that while traditional astrology is really valid, beautiful, and useful, and there’s lots of great things we should take from it, there’s also some really beautiful, useful, and elegant things from modern astrology or from contemporary astrology that shouldn’t be thrown out; that you shouldn’t ‘throw out the baby with the bathwater’, so to speak. That’s a really weird saying. I don’t know if there’s another version of that saying.
MP: It makes me want to look up where that comes from, what is that about, but I’ll do that later.
CB: Let’s just take that for granted and pretend that that saying makes any sense.
CB: So there’s a philosophy among some astrologers that there’s good things from both modern and ancient astrology, and what we should do is try to take the best pieces from both and merge them or fuse them together into a new system. And in my studies of the history of astrology, what I noticed is that approximately every 200 years this actually happens in the history of astrology where there’s a translation movement and some astrologers get excited about reviving some of the older forms of astrology, and then they synthesize it with whatever the current, prevailing paradigm of astrology is at that time.
And this tends to happen around and shortly after the conjunctions of Uranus and Neptune for some reason. And the last time we had one of those was in 1992 and 1993, and that was the point where there was a translation project that was actually formed to translate ancient astrological texts. But if you go back in 200-year increments, you’ll see astrologers continuously doing that, so I believe that’s the stage we’re at now.
And what I love about Demetra’s book is it’s one of the first books after that Uranus-Neptune conjunction that was truly successful in taking some of the ancient concepts and fusing them with the modern concepts in a way that was compelling and made sense both conceptually, as well as practically; and it’s because Demetra had a very long history, first, as a modern astrologer for 20 or 30 years, starting in the 1960s. And she initially became famous for writing one of the first books that dealt with the asteroids, their astrological interpretation, and how to put them in birth charts.
But then later in the 1990s, she got very interested in traditional astrology. She went back to school and she learned Greek and Latin and translated some texts, and she also worked with a translation project that was translating texts into English. And she was one of the first astrologers that not just learned the system and started putting it in practice, but also, started teaching it to other people.
And so, due to this background, she was sort of uniquely qualified to be one of the first people to synthesize the ancient and modern traditions and present it in this relatively comprehensive, not too long and not too overly-wordy text that is a pretty good intermediate text on astrology.
MP: Yeah, I think one of the things that I can contribute to the conversation is, for me, the study of astrology and many of these books has been so pleasurable. And I’ve read both this one that you just recommended, and also, Asteroid Goddesses, and I can say that they’re–is the word ‘page-turners’? I mean, they’re easy to read, and they’re exciting and you kind of race through.
And I can say about Asteroid Goddesses that I learned about the asteroids, and I tore through the entire book, Asteroid Goddesses, and read it like a novel. And I remember not taking notes and not thinking of being scholarly about it, but just kind of absorbing it as I fell in love with the concept of these asteroids and all of the concepts, myths, and information that was there.
So in that sense, I can say during all of my studies I never would have imagined that I would be in this conversation with you necessarily. And I can say that my studies were not taking notes; I may after this on what kinds of things would I say about these particular books. But to really just immerse myself for my own edification I truly enjoyed. So I’m hoping that I can inspire a lot of people out there who have an interest at whatever level in astrology that it really is something that you can immerse in that just provides a lot of joy along with interest.
CB: Yeah, definitely. Astrology is one of those things that once you find it, it can become a lifelong passion. But it’s actually fun to learn about it because you find this entire field that is actually super interesting and super relatable to your life and that becomes a reason to learn all of these different things and all these different areas that you might not ever have gotten into otherwise. And it actually becomes enjoyable or very pleasurable to learn about astrology just for its own sake in some ways.
MP: Yeah, absolutely, that’s the point I’m trying to get across. As a previous scholar, I know how to do all of that, how to take notes and how to retain everything because you know you’re going to have to defend it, or you’re going to organize it for something that’s going to be published. And certainly there’s nothing more important than that because we have to know the history, and we have to do our homework and due diligence and be really rigorous and careful.
But in tandem with that, there’s also so many aspects of this that are–‘wild’ is a word that I might use–wild and enjoyable, a great read, all of these kinds of things, and that really can have as much of an impact on your life as you want.
CB: Yeah, for sure. It really does make a difference sometimes when an astrology book is well-written and when the author has a certain knack for conveying information or for teaching astrology. And one of the things that I know every student of Demetra’s or everyone who’s read one of her books has loved about her writing since the very beginning, or her teaching, is that she has a natural gift as a teacher. And it’s partially because when she was in college, she initially was training to be a math teacher.
It was the late 1960s, and she ran off and joined a commune, and while living in this commune, picked up a book on astrology one day from the library and started learning about astrology and then fell deeply in love with it; and it turned out to be her calling in life and her life’s work. But she’s always had this knack for breaking concepts down and conveying them in a way that’s understandable to the reader or the student. And that’s one of the things that I think anybody that reads any of her books, but especially this one, will be the most struck by. Even though it’s an intermediate text, it’s dealing with more intermediate concepts in terms of natal astrology and reading birth charts, it does so in a very approachable fashion.
MP: Yeah, that’s a great point to make. I would describe it also as taking a class or reading a teacher. It’s like reading something that’s being taught.
CB: Yeah, for sure. So I did a biographical interview with Demetra in Episode 73 of The Astrology Podcast, titled ‘The Life and Work of Astrologer Demetra George’, where people can get more background information on her and her work. She has a more recent book that was published just a few years ago. There was a debate about whether to include that more recent one or this one from 2008. And I included the one from 2008 because I think it’s better in terms of what I’m going for with this list; it’s a better first astrology book that synthesizes modern and ancient astrology.
But she has one other book out titled Ancient Astrology in Theory and Practice, Volume 1: Assessing Planetary Condition. And I interviewed her on Episode 188 of podcast about that, and that’s more of a detailed treatment of ancient Hellenistic astrology. But we’ll maybe come back to that later, and I’ll mention that again in passing because it goes together better with another book on this list. But I think for our purposes, for intermediate astrology books, people will find this one to be the most accessible and to be one of the best.
One of the things you said about astrology being fun to learn, pleasurable to learn, and giving people a real spark for learning is if you become an astrologer, and astrology becomes a lifelong passion–whether you make it a career thing or whether it’s just a side hobby of yours–in either instance, one of the things that all astrologers share in common is that they end up building up a pretty decent library of astrology books.
Collecting and reading different astrology books is part of being an astrologer and always has been in some sense. There’s a really important element of astrology in having to do with literature and having to do with book learning that’s an important part of its history. So this list that I’m outlining is my ideal six or so intro to astrology books that you start with, but this by no means will be the end of your journey; but instead, will just be the beginning of your collecting of different astrology books and this list is just meant to give you a solid foundation or starting point for that.
MP: So we might even call it something like a ‘quickie’ syllabus or something like that. You’re describing the content of these works, and it’s sounding so intense and detailed. But it is important I guess that we’re honest about the fact that these are tiny windows in terms of what’s actually available, what’s actually out there.
CB: Yeah, exactly. One of the things about the books on my list that they’re all going to share in common is they’re all very cognizant of the fact that they’re sort of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. And when you read these books, and then when you look at their bibliographies, or you read some of the footnotes or even some of the references in the body of the text in passing to other works, you’re going to end up walking away with a list of other important books that influenced this author, or the author of each of these books that in some way inspired them or influenced different techniques that they present in the book.
So that’s one of the other things about this list is it’s also giving you really good books as your first six astrology books, but that’s going to be a thing that’s going to branch off from there and is going to lead to dozens and potentially hundreds of other books if you decided to make this a major study of yours.
CB: All right, so let’s transition at this point to the fifth book on my list, which is a book by an astrologer and an academic scholar named Richard Tarnas titled Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. So this book came out in I believe it was 2005, roughly–I should probably look that up–but it was kind of a big deal at the time because it was actually reviewed in a number of major publications; it made a splash.
But the reason why it was really important and it became notable in actual mainstream discussions and literary reviews at the time was because Richard Tarnas was actually a famous academic and author of a book that came out over a decade earlier in the 1990s titled The Passion of the Western Mind, which was kind of like a sweeping overview of the development of Western thought and the development of Western thought and philosophy that was so successful that it was on the core reading lists in many college courses for studying Western civilization. And it didn’t have anything to do with astrology, and it kind of put him on the map as a respectable, intellectual scholar.
But what happened in 2005 is that it turned out he came out with this other book that was about astrology, and it turned out that Passion of the Western Mind was originally just a footnote or a precursor to this broader presentation of astrology that he had been writing for a few decades up to that point.
So Cosmos and Psyche is a much more dense, much more heady or brainy book on astrology. Essentially, what he tried to do is he tried to act as respectable academic scholar to make the best pitch that he possibly could to intellectuals, to an academic audience, and a general audience of educated individuals of astrology as a legitimate phenomenon. And he tried to be like, “This is a real phenomenon, here’s some of the evidence based on my study of history, and especially based on the study of planetary cycles and how important planetary alignments have coincided with important turning points in the history of Western civilization and thought,” and that’s the basic premise of the book essentially.
I don’t think he even mentions the word ‘astrology’ for the first 50 pages. And then eventually he sort of gets into it, and it turns out that this is an astrology book where it’s kind of trying to take the intellectual community by surprise in presenting this as a subject of serious study, that actually could be respectable, and could be legitimate, even though up to that point, it had been treated as, I think he says, “the gold standard of pseudo-science,” or something like that.
In modern times, astrology has not been viewed as legitimate in scientific, philosophical, or intellectual circles. Even though something like 25% or 30% of the population, depending on the survey ‘believes’ in astrology, it’s not seen, especially in academic circles, as something that’s legitimate. So he tries to present the case for it actually being a legitimate topic that has some validity to it, and what the world would be like and what the cosmos would be like if that were true; that’s basically the premise of Cosmos and Psyche from my take on it.
MP: Okay. I had this one; I’m not all the way through. Folks should know it’s very, very thick.
MP: It’s lovely and extremely fascinating. I’m very curious, how was it received, especially either by the popular audience or the academic community?
CB: How was it received? I mean, the reviews were largely not super good. I mean, I don’t think it ended up having the impact that he wanted it to have at the time, in that it didn’t just suddenly break open the case and suddenly everybody believes that astrology is a legitimate phenomenon overnight. I do think in retrospect that it started to have a little bit more impact than it initially seemed to. Because one of the things that happened is that it was published by a major publisher. I think it was published by Viking Press or something like that. Yeah, it was published by Viking, which is a subset of Penguin; so it was published by a major publisher.
And as a result of that, one of the things that was weird about Cosmos and Psyche is that even still today, you’ll find it in major bookstores; not in the astrology section, but in the philosophy section. And there was this period for a decade or a decade-and-a-half where you’d walk into any mainstream bookstore–like a Barnes & Noble, or back when they used to have Borders Books or something like that, in the glory days of more than 10 years ago, before all the bookstores started closing down–and you could find this book in the philosophy section.
And one of the very weird side effects of that is I’ve met a lot of people over the past 10 or 15 years since the book was published that found this book by accident, picked it up and started reading it and accidentally stumbled into actual, legitimate advanced astrology as a result. And it became their first astrology book as a result of that and as a result of his initial stature as an intellectual, as a scholar, and having it published by a major publisher, and having it get categorized in the philosophy section.
MP: Yeah. Just from what I would call a very brief perusal, it’s philosophical, and it’s also kind of poetic in the way that it theorizes the art or structure of meaning around broad cultural and historical patterns, myths, in tandem with the movements of the planets. Would you say that I’m describing it correctly?
CB: Yeah, I think so. It ended up forming a school of astrology, you might say. They refer to themselves as ‘archetypal astrologers’, and these tend to be people that are patterning their astrology after Richard Tarnas’ work and the approach to astrology that he presents there; for the most part, it represents what I usually see as the highest form of modern astrology. This was one of the last books before traditional astrology started becoming really popular and is largely untainted by that movement to go back and integrate all of these old texts and old ways into astrology. So it’s largely presenting a somewhat ‘pure’ take on modern astrology, but it’s also representing what I would consider to be some of the best pieces of modern astrology.
In any field there’s going to be people that do something really well and at a very high level, there’s going to be an intermediate version of that, and there’s going to be a lower version of that that’s maybe not done as well, as carefully, or with as much intellectual rigor. I would say that his book represents some of the highest aspirations of modern astrology at that turning point in 2005 when things were starting to change and it was starting to go a different direction into the older forms of astrology.
Anyway, they call their approach archetypal astrology, and it’s based on this concept that there’s archetypes that exist out there that are like umbrella concepts and astrology speaks in some way through archetypes. And so, for example, when he introduces the planets, he has a long paragraph and he tries to explain the archetype of Saturn by talking about 50 different things that Saturn is said to signify or be associated with in astrology.
And part of the issue is that, for us, living in the world, we’re familiar with all of the individual manifestations, but we can’t access fully this broader, overarching, umbrella concept, which is the archetype of Saturn; but you can access all of the hundreds of different manifestations of that, which are the concrete manifestations of it in our world.
But the more you understand the concrete manifestations and the variety in them, the more you can get closer to having some comprehension of the overarching archetype. And one access point for that is understanding the myths associated with the planets, for example, as one manifestation of the archetype, but there’s also other manifestations either psychologically, in character traits, or also in concrete events.
MP: Yeah, it is one of the essential concepts of astrology. We started out by talking about the different components of the language. And by the time we get to a work like Cosmos and Psyche, it’s really showing how the language is vast but also quite grounded and specific at the same time. And that’s even just hard to understand conceptually how something can be that, especially in the traditional sense that there’s just seven planets; the two luminaries and the planets.
There’s only seven, but within the seven, you could call even those archetypes. I’ve heard them called ‘hyper-objects’–these entities or literal planets, however you want to think of it, that are infused with meanings. And this book is kind of an illustration of the variant ways that the meanings can work–manifest, be read, be interpreted, be seen–that felt to me very well-researched and very grounded, even though what we’re talking about doesn’t seem very grounded, but it is. So I see this work as giving, again, another window or doorway into how astrology can work in one of its forms, and it’s meaningful for the reader.
Again, you mentioned Saturn. We’re taking those archetypes, those connotations, those variant meanings and all the different ranges they can happen–from the psychological to the literal, the mundane, etc.–and we’re figuring out how they do apply, how they interact, how they make patterns, so it’s kind of pattern-making and the art of making meaning. So the work can be something very beautiful, and I do think a little intimidating.
And I felt a little nervous, as a former academic, for him, even though I knew it had been published over a decade earlier. And whatever had happened, he withstood, but it would be difficult I think to introduce it within that discipline.
CB: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I’ve seen over the past 10 years–as one of only a handful of people talking about traditional astrology–is that things don’t change overnight, and they don’t usually change with the older generation; they change with the next generation that’s coming up. And that’s actually what I’ve seen over the past 5 or 6 years, over the past 10 years, suddenly traditional astrology and the older forms of astrology have taken off and become wildly popular with the next generation of astrologers.
And I think there’s a parallel there with Tarnas’ work where even if he didn’t cause a seismic shift in the contemporary or older academic establishment at the time, there were probably ways in which his work has influenced some younger generations and some people that were exposed to astrology that wouldn’t be otherwise.
And especially if they picked up one of the other books on our list–like Carole Taylor’s book, which is much more designed to be almost like a graphic novel in some sense in the way that it’s illustrated very well–that wouldn’t be appealing and compelling to a certain subset of, let’s say, intellectuals or people with an academic background. Whereas something like Tarnas’ book is something because it has a certain consistency, a certain aura of intellectual integrity, and it follows some of the standards that are necessary for academic respectability if you’re going to attempt to present this subject to that group.
And so, that’s one of the reasons why it’s on my list because I wanted to have a cross-section of different types of astrology books. At this point, this is number five; so this is on my more advanced list of beginner, intro to astrology books. But I wanted to have this on this list because I think there’s certain types of people where some of these other books may not speak to them or they may not find compelling; whereas this book might be more suited to their temperament or their background and training.
MP: Yes, yes. It’s cultural analysis. It’s philosophy, but it’s also cultural analysis, which is a genre discipline that exists. It’s just cultural analysis that includes the planets, I would say.
CB: Right. Yeah, there is a lot of that. On the one hand, it does deal with some natal astrology and some birth charts, and he shows some compelling things from birth chart placements of famous people in the past. But a large part of the work is actually focused on mundane astrology and focused on showing how different planetary alignments for some reason lined up or coincided very closely with important shifts in Western civilization and shifts in society in general.
And one of the things I think that’s made his work more compelling in the long term is that in some instances towards the end of the book, he took some of the historical cycles that he talked about in the past and showed how certain alignments of certain planets, for example, the Saturn-Pluto conjunction of the early 1980s coincided with the explosion of the AIDS epidemic. He projected some of that out into the future, and he noted how there would be some of those alignments that would happen again; of course, as all planetary alignments do on a long enough timeline, they will happen again in the future.
And so, he noted that, for example, there would be another Saturn-Pluto conjunction around the 2020 time frame, which then of course ended up coinciding with the onset of the COVID pandemic as an interesting manifestation that was archetypally similar to some of those previous alignments, like the early 1980s one with the AIDS epidemic.
MP: It’s an intricate weaving of detail and how the various planetary movements, conjunctions, all of the vast ways that they intersect; that’s really fascinating. And I was going to ask you if you happen to be aware of the Archetypal Explorer. Is it an app? Is it a webpage? It’s something that I’ve just subscribed to. Are you aware of it?
CB: Yeah, it’s something I’ve been using for the past couple of years. One of the things that happened is Tarnas’ work ended up becoming very influential, and he’s had a number of, if not direct students, different people that have followed his work and used that as the primary basis to create an approach to astrology which they generally refer to as archetypal astrology.
And in some instances, there have been people that have pursued that study in an academic context, in academia, at certain schools, like CIIS, the California Institute of Integral Studies, where there have been a number of people that have gotten a master’s or a PhD at this point, where they’ve integrated some similar lines of thought from Richard Tarnas’ work, bringing in some elements of astrology in an academic context.
Anyway, I mention that because I believe the creator of Archetypal Explorer is one of those people who’s followed and taken Tarnas’ work and then applied it into his own. And he created a website where you can follow either your own transits and time activations related to astrology, or you can study world transits and world cycles historically, in a visual format using this website.
MP: So yeah, I just discovered it and had to have it, and use it everyday. And I would say it’s very accessible, lovely graphics. And I really prefer it to some of the other things that I have and look at it definitely everyday, both my personal, the ‘me’ part, and also, the world part.
CB: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been using it for the forecast episodes for the past year or two now. It has this really beautiful way of showing transits and planetary alignments by plotting them on a graph, and then showing the date of the exact alignment as the peak in the graph, but then showing when the planets move away from the exact alignment, aspect, or configuration–there’s different terms for it–when they move away from that there’s sort of a drop in the graph. And it gives you this much more clearer picture of the overlapping of the different planetary alignments that are happening at different points in time, sometimes simultaneously, and sometimes spread out in different periods of time.
So yeah, that’s super cool and it’s super useful. I think he’s integrated some delineations both from Cosmos and Psyche, as well as from other books that have been written in that same vein of archetypal astrology as a school of thought.
MP: Right. You can click on the transits and then text appears. It’s got many, many bells and whistles like this that are just so unique and fun, and actually I would say really good for maybe beginners, maybe intermediate learners, obviously, you, advanced. It’s got something for everyone. And as we just saw it has a very lovely visual design that I found simple to pick up and use quickly.
CB: Yeah. So here, when you click on a personal transit, it gives you a delineation from Richard Tarnas and from his work. And then there’s a new one that he’s integrating from another archetypal astrologer who I think studied with Tarnas at one point, named Renn Butler and his book The Archetypal Universe, which is another book that provides delineations that are in the same vein in terms of interpreting them in that school of modern astrology.
MP: Right. And in the Horoscope tab, you can take transits forward or backward in time. If you go where it says Natal, go to Transit, you can adjust the calendar forward or backward in time–which I adore–then click on the transit to get the reading below.
CB: Yeah, I love that. That’s so important because being able to, one, move a chart forwards and backwards in time gives you a much better understanding of what’s going on with astrology, what a chart actually represents, and the different cycles of time and the planets. But also, transits in particular have always been one of the primary timing techniques, and ultimately, it’s one of the most compelling pieces of astrology. It shows you when events happen and why certain events happen during one part of the life rather than another, and it has to do with looking at where the planets are in the sky now relative to where they were in your birth chart.
And that’s basically the fundamental premise of transits. But actually I’m excited that there’s starting to become more public knowledge of that because that’s actually, to me, always been the most compelling point in astrology. It’s not just reading birth chart interpretations, which can be somewhat subjective: Is this true? Is this not true? Is this confirmation bias or something like that, that I’m making this fit?
When you look at transits and timing, and you start looking at the events in a person’s life and what the planetary alignments were and how they related to the birth chart or the date that a very crucial event or a turning point happened in a person’s life, you see that a symbolically-appropriate transit happened very closely or exactly at the same time as that event happened. That’s when astrology starts getting really impressive and really spooky because you start seeing that it actually works in a way that shouldn’t be possible or that you wouldn’t normally think should work, but for some reason it does.
MP: It must be a conventional trajectory for any person who enters astrology and who gets into it that they eventually discover, time after time, that it does work and it does make sense. And that’s, again, another kind of portal that you have to go through and grapple with how can this be and why you’d want to. But if anyone does start seriously, I would recommend to start doing a diary because that helps.
I’m a person who had been a kind of fanatic diarist, and also, a fanatic keeper of data and objects of every paper I ever wrote, all through school and all of this other kind of stuff. And those artifacts really helped me put together my own timeline to make sense of things. And also, I happen to be 51, so I have quite a long trajectory of life in order to make sense of all these other kinds of major things that would have been happening.
I really appreciate and love coming to astrology at this point. I think that I might have been far too neurotic having to enter into it in my 20s and see what was coming. Because many times I’ve been like, “I know that I’m okay,” and I see the things that I’m analyzing that I’ve already went through and making sense of what did happen, and I did in fact survive. Again, astrology, I recommend it.
CB: Yeah, it’s tricky because when you’re looking at your chart when you’re younger, or if you’re an astrologer and you do a consultation with somebody that’s younger, in their teens or 20s, they’re are so many events in their life that haven’t happened yet that may be indicated by the birth chart. But because they haven’t happened yet, if you say that to the person, it may not resonate or connect with them because it simply hasn’t been the case so far; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t at some point in the future.
CB: So that is a tricky thing that I’ve wrestled with and complained about in many podcast episodes over the years, that aspect of things. Yeah, there’s lot of funny anecdotes. I have a funny, recurring joke that my partner and I talk about sometimes when she’s on the podcast about reading her chart and making some statement about a few placements very early on when we met, within the first month or two; not in a consultation, but just friends looking at each other’s charts, in a ‘getting to know you’ sense.
She was just very blunt about being like, “No, that’s not true,” or “That doesn’t match my life at all.” But then later, in subsequent decades, quite inadvertently, some of those placements worked out perfectly, and it’s a funny, recurring joke between the two of us about how that works out sometimes.
MP: Yeah, it might be my working philosophy that if I don’t see it, it’s just because I haven’t discovered the way to see it yet.
CB: Yeah, there’s definitely a certain amount of humbleness that’s kind of necessary when you approach astrology because you’re dealing with something that’s so incredibly complex; it would have to be if it truly is a system that can describe the intricacies of human life. You would have to approach it with a certain amount of humbleness that certain people with certain mindsets may not be accustomed to.
And I think that’s why sometimes if a person is approaching it from more of a purely dogmatic, skeptical mindset, it could be easy to reject it out of hand without truly having investigated it hardly at all. Because if you’re approaching it with a certain sort of mindset, you might not be open to understanding how it is actually working in some ways, even if it appears in some sense initially that perhaps it’s not.
MP: Yeah. I guess maybe it’s occurred to me that as we get up to the advanced section of the books that you’re recommending that now you’re kind of revealing that it is all of these really serious topics with a history that can be laid out with graphs, visuals, and things that we can comprehend and understand.
But at some point, there is a liftoff where it can only take you into a whole different realm of thinking as you discover the legitimacy that you’ve spent so much time as a student–not you, but everybody–to gather the tools and learn the language. And then once it starts being put to use is when things really shift. There’s just no avoiding it, I think.
CB: Yeah. And one of the fundamental issues that Tarnas deals with and addresses and tries to wrestle with–that is the reason why his book is on the list and is an important step for every astrologer–is that he deals with the broader philosophical and cosmological questions of, okay, if astrology is a legitimate phenomenon of some sort that does exists in the universe, what does that mean? And what is the nature of the cosmos if that is true? Because then it becomes an issue of we then need to construct a new cosmology that takes into account astrology.
What would it look like to attempt to construct a cosmology in modern times that took into account all of the scientific and philosophical and other types of advancements that have happened over the past several centuries, but also, make room for astrology and integrate astrology, so that it creates a sort of grand unified system of some sort? There have been different versions of that in the past, going back to the 2nd century with Claudius Ptolemy who attempted to do it at different points, which was basically taking astrology a legitimate phenomenon and then contextualizing it within the context of whatever the prevailing scientific paradigm was at the time.
But it’s been a long time since anybody pulled that off and came up with a grand unified theory that had some place for astrology. So that’s one of the things that Tarnas tried to do, and it’s one of the things that’s the most admirable and important about his book in maybe going further than anybody that I’ve seen in modern times in actually pulling that off.
MP: Yeah, in that sense, what a great recommendation, as it illustrates all of the concepts that you were just talking about. That it’s kind of a pulling-together and an imagining of what an integration of astrology would look like, and also, what it could do.
CB: Yeah, because once you actually get into astrology and you get to the intermediate and the advanced levels, it becomes not just an issue of how do I interpret my birth chart, how do I use these different timing techniques, how do I read other people’s birth charts. It becomes a broader thing about what are the philosophical issues that astrology raises once you realize that it’s a legitimate phenomenon, and how do I adjust my worldview to make some room for that in terms of other broader issues related to things like fate, free will, determinism, and different things like that.
CB: Yeah, so that is why that book is on my list. It’s a very thick book. Many people don’t necessarily finish it all the way to the end because he goes into a lot of really detailed historical studies and things like that. But as long as you read, especially the first third or half of the book, there’s a lot of information that’s just packed in there that’s super important.
I did want to show a slide from a recent episode of I did on the planet Saturn where I used an excerpt from Richard Tarnas’ description of Saturn, just to give you a taste of what I was talking about when I was talking about his approach to astrology being archetypal in talking about the many different manifestations of a planet in order to access the overarching, umbrella concept.
So this is a passage from Cosmos and Psyche. 2006, that’s the publication date, not 2005. So he says Saturn is or represents: “The principle of limit, structure, contraction, constraint, necessity, hard materiality, concrete manifestation; time, the past, tradition, age, maturity, mortality, the endings of things; gravity and gravitas, weightiness, that which burdens, binds, challenges, fortifies, deepens; the tendency to confine and constrict, to separate, to divide and define, to cut and shorten, to negate and oppose, to strengthen and forge through tension and resistance, to rigidify, to repress, to maintain a conservative and strict authority; to experience difficulty, decline, deprivation, defect and deficit, defeat, failure, loss, alienation; the labor of existence, suffering, old age, death; the weight of the past, the workings of fate, character, karma, the consequences of past action, error and guilt, punishment, retribution, imprisonment, the sense of “no exit”.”
“[P]essimism, inferiority, inhibition, isolation, oppression and depression; the impulse and capacity for discipline and duty, order, solitude, concentration, conciseness, thoroughness and precision, discrimination and objectivity, restraint and patience, endurance, responsibility, seriousness, authority, wisdom; the harvest of time, effort, and experience; the concern with consensus reality, factual correctness, conventional forms and structures, foundations, boundaries, solidity and stability, security and control, rational organization, efficiency, law, right and wrong, judgment, the superego; the dark, cold, heavy, dense, dry, old, slow, distant; the senex, Kronos, the stern father of the gods.”
So that is his paragraph on Saturn, and that is a taste of, on the one hand, him trying to describe an overarching concept through its many, many different manifestations, but through that you start to understand the overarching, almost transcendent concepts that cannot be described in just one word on its own. That transcendent concept has innumerable, different manifestations, but there’s a similar underlying meaning there that is somehow still consistent, even though it has so many different variations.
MP: I’m so glad you shared that because that gives a taste of what I’ve been trying to describe about the uses of the meanings of the language once you get to know them. And that list perfectly illustrates the vastness, but at the same time, it’s pulled together and can be collected, a specific kind of umbrella. It also gives people who would be watching this and looking for the books to read–it gives them a sense of the options that are there that makes sense for you.
I guess as an aside, as you were reading that, I have a soft spot for Saturn. I love Saturn. There was almost a poetry or a glee as you were going through it, and I, with each word, would think of how I know it; how I know this either archetype or planet, or however I or anyone else is going to conceptualize it.
It really is a vast force–as you can see in the listing of the words and the language–that is conceptual, but also, can be very deeply personal in a lot of different ways that might even be sensory or textual; different than just knowing the basic meaning. So I think that’s a great illustration of the kinds of knowledge and maybe opportunities and ways to use this book.
CB: Yeah, for sure. And even though I described this initially as the highest form of modern astrology in some sense, or highest expression, Tarnas is well-read enough and is good enough of an academic that he more than other modern astrologers would have done a literature review and have an understanding of the long history of the treatment of some of that planet and its different archetypal manifestations and how it’s been treated historically than most modern astrologers had. So for that reason, his paragraph on Saturn actually does represent a very nice blend of some modern and some traditional views on what that planet signifies. So that’s a very useful part of his work as well at the same time.
Yeah, so that’s Cosmos and Psyche. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s a good book to wrestle with and try to tackle if you can at some point relatively early in your studies. He also gives just a very good treatment of the outer planets, maybe more so than any other book on this list–the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto–by looking at some of their historical alignments; and through that I think it will expose you very early on to a very good treatment of that.
It’s also not overly-New Agey or spiritual in its orientation, which can be some modern astrologers’ orientation, but for him, it’s not. It doesn’t necessarily have that backdrop, per se, which is kind of an important point.
MP: Yeah, not at all. It feels like an academic cultural analysis to me.
CB: Right. Yeah, and I think it will just speak to some people that have that kind of background, that sort of academic training, interest, or affinity for that approach more than some of the other books on the list. Okay, so that brings us I think to the final book on my list. And we had a little discussion about this when we first were talking about doing this. And you were asking me and I think encouraging me to mention my own book, right?
MP: Yeah. I knew that I would be asking astrology experts, but this is one of the books that I felt would be essential for this list. And the other one I think you mentioned, Alice Sparkly Kat, earlier. We’re not going to talk about that one, but the other one is Post-Colonial Astrology and then Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of–I don’t want to get the title wrong. The Study of Fate and Fortune.
I just want to show off my own copy. Now this is not one that I read like a novel. This is one that I take notes on and actually literally study, for sure.
CB: Yeah, it is not light, bedtime reading. When it first came out, I would advise people not to read it in bed vertically because if you drop it on your head, you will end up with a serious concussion; it’s like a 700-page tome. Yeah, so number six on the list, even though it’s a little weird, it might be a little tacky recommending one’s own book…
MP: No, I insisted. So this is me, it’s not tacky at all. I think that this definitely needs to be here.
CB: Okay, so book six on our list, especially once we get to the more advanced section of the last two books, is titled Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune by Chris Brennan, which was published on February 10, 2017. And in this book, I spent 10 years studying this ancient tradition of astrology from 2,000 years ago, going back and trying to reconstruct what the origins of Western astrology were.
And I had a funny story with that where I learned astrology starting in 1999 and 2000, and I was still in high school. And I quickly found that this was my passion and started studying astrology books like way more than I was studying the books I should have been studying while I was still in high school. And I didn’t think that I could actually pursue it in college because I realized that astrology was not seen as a legitimate subject to study in academia. So for a period of time, I actually dropped out in order to pursue my studies of astrology because I realized that that’s what I wanted to do with my life.
And during that year that I took off from high school, at one point my Mom was searching around online, and she found this new college called Kepler College, which had recently opened up in Seattle and had recently gained state authorization to issue associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in astrological studies. And I ended up being really surprised and really excited, and I went back to school and got my high school diploma so I could get into Kepler College.
And I went there with the express goal of learning modern astrology because that was my background and training up to that point for four years of my astrological studies and of self-study, of reading every contemporary astrology book, especially ones published in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s that I could get my hands on at that point. So I wanted to study modern astrology and what that meant was contemporary, late 20th century astrology that incorporated the outer planets and all of the recent innovations and things that seemed like necessary components in order to practice astrology in modern times.
And I went through the first year, which was largely learning about the history of astrology, which is kind of interesting from an intellectual standpoint, but had not a lot of practical usefulness for me. And I got to the second year, and midway through the second year, they forced me to take an introduction to something called Hellenistic astrology and an introduction simultaneously to something called Vedic astrology or Indian astrology.
And I actually protested, and I tried to get out of it, but they said, “That’s tough. This is the only track that we have.” Because I was supposed to be able to branch off and study psychological astrology in the second year at that point, but by the time I got there that track was not ready yet. All they had was this other track where you had to start by comparing ancient Western astrology to ancient Indian astrology because there were actually a lot of parallels between them. So I reluctantly started studying and taking this course with Demetra George, who was teaching this course on Hellenistic astrology with Dennis Harness, who was teaching the Vedic or the Indian component, and very quickly, within a matter of two or three weeks, I immediately fell in love with it.
And I found through reading translations of some of the ancient texts from Greek and Latin that were prepared by Robert Schmidt of the Project Hindsight Translation Project–together with some of Demetra George’s study notes and lessons that were meant to go along with, add commentary, and guide you into studying some of these ancient texts–I very quickly realized that there was a lot of very useful information in studying the ancient astrological texts, and that my preconceptions about this whole practice were completely wrong, that it was completely outdated, no longer useful, and all these other things.
But in fact, there were a number of techniques from ancient astrology that simply hadn’t been transmitted to us over the past 2,000 years because the history of astrology was so long and checkered, and it turned out there was a bunch of useful stuff that was lying in some of these ancient texts just waiting to be recovered as soon as we could translate and understand what they were saying.
So I quickly got into it, I passed that course, and I ended up moving–within a few months, later that year–to study at Project Hindsight where they were translating a bunch of these texts, and I studied there for two years. And while I was there I realized even though some of these texts had been available since the early 1990s, most astrologers weren’t reading those translations and they weren’t understanding them because nobody had written a primer or an introduction to ancient Hellenistic astrology at that point; and that was really necessary before this material was going to have the sort of impact that it should be having on contemporary astrology up to that point.
When I looked around in 2005, 2006, 2007, I was shocked that other people weren’t integrating some of these new techniques that I was finding, like the concept of ‘whole sign houses’, or the concept of ‘sect’, which is the distinction between day and night charts, which is such a crucial distinction in ancient astrology but had completely fallen out by the time of modern astrology; even some of the advanced timing techniques, like ‘annual profections’ or ‘zodiacal releasing’.
And I decided in 2006 and 2007 that I needed to start writing a book to give an overview of this tradition. That way, I could both reconstruct the history and philosophy, but also, give an overview of this entire system as it was originally practiced 2,000 years ago, starting at about the 1st century BCE. So I set out to write the book, it took me 10 years, and it was eventually published in 2017.
MP: Yeah, I find it essential. I’m not sure how else to say it. We’ve kind of laid out how we’re moving from the beginner concepts, the beginner books, and moving upwards. Can you describe how it takes us deeper, or elongates or enriches the other astrological topics that we might be familiar with at this point? Or maybe a better question is, why am I calling it ‘essential’?
CB: The reason why it’s essential–one of the things you have to understand about why Hellenistic astrology is important and why it’s actually only recently become popular over the course of the past few years or past decade maybe is because it was the last part of the tradition that was recently dug up during the course of the traditional revival of the past 30 years.
So what happened is that starting in the 1980s, there were some astrologers, especially in the UK, that went back and started looking at older texts. But what they did is they went back as far as they could and found the earliest English-language texts that they could, and when they did that the furthest they could get in English was about the middle of the 17th century.
And one very influential text–the very first major textbook on astrology that was written in English–was the book titled Christian Astrology by William Lilly, which was published in 1647. So starting in the 1980s, there was a whole school of astrologers that got excited about what we call now ‘Renaissance astrology’, what I call ‘Renaissance astrology’, which is roughly 17th century astrology, but the issue is that 17th century astrology was the very tail-end of a tradition that had started 1,700 years before that.
So first, contemporary astrologers in the 1980s started putting Renaissance astrology into practice again and that was the initial revival of traditional astrology. Then after that there were some astrologers that went back a little bit further, and they started getting translations of texts from Latin and Arabic from the Medieval period, from roughly the 8th century CE through the 12th or 13th centuries CE.
And so, the second tradition that was dug up was the revival of ‘Medieval astrology’ and then that became somewhat popular. And that’s what you’ll see represented by astrologers like Robert Zoller, or, for example, Helena Avelar and Luis Ribeiro’s book is more centered on Medieval and Renaissance astrology, I would say; so they focus on the middle and later part of the tradition.
But then eventually what happened is there was one more piece of the tradition to be dug up, which was basically the earliest part of the tradition, which was what we called ‘Hellenistic astrology’. It started in Egypt around the 1st century BCE and then was practiced basically during the height of the Roman Empire, all the way until about the 6th or 7th centuries CE. So it roughly coincides with the Roman Empire when we’re talking about Hellenistic astrology. We just call it Hellenistic astrology because it originated in the Hellenistic period, in the 1st century BCE.
So why this is important is it turns out that most of the basic techniques of Western astrology that astrologers have been using for the past 2,000 years when it comes to that fourfold system of planets, signs, houses, and aspects, most of that system was introduced relatively quickly, all at once, around the 1st century BCE, in a series of texts where some different traditions of astrology from Mesopotamia and from Egypt were merged and synthesized together with some other contemporary traditions at the time that were present in the Mediterranean from the Greeks, the Romans, and other cultures. It created this new tradition of astrology, which we call Hellenistic astrology from the 1st century BCE. But that was basically the birth of the entire tradition of Western astrology that’s then flourished over the past 2,000 years.
So by studying Hellenistic astrology, we’re going back to the original source of the entirety of the Western astrological tradition and finding the reasons why we have many of the concepts that are taken for granted by astrologers today in modern times, that they’ve long since forgotten the origins of because they were buried in over 2,000 years of history.
And what happened was there was the rise and fall of many civilizations and empires over the past 2,000 years, and astrology would be transmitted periodically every few centuries to new cultures and into new languages. But every time it was transmitted and translated into a new language, there were some things that were lost and there were other things that were added because it was basically a 2,000-year-long game of ‘telephone’.
You know that game? Different people call it different things. But children sit in a circle, and one person at the beginning of the circle whispers something into the ear of the person next to them, and then the person after that whispers the same thing into the next person’s ear. By the time it goes all the way around the circle and comes out the other end, oftentimes, the message is quite different than what it started as. That’s kind of the difference between where astrology started in the 1st century BCE versus where it ended up in the early 21st century by the year 2000 or something.
So part of the goal with this text is to go back to the very beginning and look at astrology through translations of ancient texts and recover what astrology was originally as a system 2,000 years ago. And I wanted to write a book that would be a comprehensive survey, an overview of that original tradition, so that people could learn it and get a sort of summary of it without necessarily reading the texts themselves. But instead, it would give you sort of a guide to what are the major texts that survive, what are the techniques that they used, and how can some of those techniques be used in practice today by presenting over a hundred example charts in the second-half of the book.
MP: And it’s incredibly thorough, incredibly well-researched. Very clear in the way that it’s laid out in terms of the history and the history of these texts, as you’ve just described. But it also gives an overview of techniques that are extremely useful. I think it’s important, at least for me, to have an understanding of how to use these techniques in addition to where they come from or how they’re derived.
I mean, I was thinking, do you want to talk about some of the techniques that you go over? I mean, there were so many that just kind of pulled it all together for me in terms of this language that we started out talking about and how I might utilize it; adding so much complexity and nuance, or these kinds of prismatic aspects, I would say; all of these other dimensions of the ways that the planets operate; the ways that the chart enacts.
CB: Yeah. I mean, I wanted to present an overview of basically everything and that was always my goal in writing the book. Some people suggested that I break it into different volumes because it was so massive, but I always had this vision of, no, I want to cover everything in one book, even if it’s a very large book.
So the first five chapters are an overview of the history of Western astrology from its ancient origins to the creation of Hellenistic astrology and the transmission of parts of that system into modern times–so you know how astrology got to where it is today–and then the six chapters dealing with some topics related to the philosophy of ancient astrology, and especially the debates about fate versus free will, the mechanism of astrology and whether it works through signs or through the planets causing events to happen as opposed to just signifying them.
The technical part of the book is loosely broken into three parts. One, the next four chapters deal with basic concepts and all of the basic things that you need to know about the fourfold system of the planets, the whole chapter on the planets, what they mean, and different techniques associated with them, including the technique known as sect, or the distinction between day and night charts.
Then I go into the signs of the zodiac, their original meanings, and different things like the rulership system, what the conceptual motivation for the rulership system was, and why certain planets are associated with or said to rule certain signs of the zodiac. Then I go into the concept of aspects, which are configurations or relationships between planets, and I show how that evolved partially out of ancient optical theories and different notions about what it takes for planets to have a relationship with each other versus not having a relationship. And then eventually I go into the system of the 12 houses, where we get the significations of each of the 12 houses from, and what the houses originally meant and why they meant those things.
So after that I start getting into intermediate concepts, which is bringing all of those pieces together and how to synthesize them by looking at things like ‘the ruler of the Ascendant’ and how that indicates part of the native’s overall direction in life. And then getting into other concepts like the rulers of other houses, which shows interactions between different parts of the life, like when the ruler of the 7th house of relationships is in the 10th house of career.
And then, finally, I get into more advanced concepts like the ‘bonification and maltreatment’ conditions, which is determining how the planets are functioning in the chart and whether they’re functioning in a way that’s working out constructively or whether it’s working out in a way that’s disadvantageous to the native or some parts of their life.
Then eventually I get into advanced timing techniques. The ancient astrologers had this conceptualization that not all parts of the chart are activated at all times, but instead, some parts are lying there dormant or latent until they’re activated using some of these advanced timing techniques known as ‘time-lords’ systems.
So I introduce the two most powerful and compelling time-lord systems that I found in the ancient texts, one of them is called annual profections. And that especially shows you how to determine the planet that is activated as the ruler of the year, so that its transits will be more important. And then I get into a much more exotic and complex time-lord technique called zodiacal releasing, which can show, among other things, different peak periods or periods of heightened importance and activity in a person’s life within the context of their career and their overall life’s work.
And that’s where all of the techniques come together into one very advanced technique, but the things that that technique can do are things that I had never encountered before in modern astrology, and some of the philosophical implications were just really astounding once you see what it’s capable of.
MP: Yeah, I agree, thank you. It’s so nice to come into the topic with something like this already written and already there. And I would just offer my recommendation that it is so clear; you laid it out so clearly. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to be very careful and studious as I went through very, very carefully. And what did you call ‘zodiacal’–what was that description that you just used to describe zodiacal releasing?
CB: ‘Exotic’ maybe?
MP: Exotic, yes. Exotic, mind-blowing, complicated, and intense. But all of these topics very much are worth it and are things that really have enriched my understanding. And again, this is a very complicated book. This is a very thick book. This is a very vast book. But I would describe it also as accessible.
You need to have the foundation, and then you come to it and it will I’d say enliven and enrich. Any astrological student, aficionado, or enthusiast–anyone with a passion for the topic–this is essential because it is the road map or way to get to those really ‘wow’ moments that are complicated, that we can understand, but then give us a whole different sense of our whole own life and the cosmos, as you were saying.
CB: Yeah. And part of the reason I wrote the book is basically I wanted to write the book that I wished that I had when I started studying ancient astrology but didn’t exist and that I knew there was a need for. I sort of looked around and there was nobody else that was going to do it any time in the near future, so it was something I took on as a 10-year project in my life.
But that’s the reason why I can sort of justify the almost navel-gazing of recommending my own book on this list. It’s because it’s a book that was necessary in order to truly understand what Western astrology is, where it came from, and what it’s capable of and that’s why it’s important, but it’s also somewhat advanced.
One of the things though in terms of the writing is because I wrote it over a 10-year period of my life, one of the things that was funny was by the time I was getting to the later parts of that project, my voice and how I wrote and expressed myself had gone through different changes. And it changed so much over the years and I learned how to write better over the years, both from writing academic articles, but also, from writing blog articles for years and learning how to convey things more concisely and in a way that was more understandable, as well as through teaching; I had been teaching an online course on Hellenistic astrology for years up to this point.
So in the final year, I actually took a year off. I saved up a bunch of money, as much as I could, and I took a year off from doing consultations and I started over. I started the manuscript over from scratch and rewrote it from scratch in order to adopt a more consistent tone throughout the book. And that’s one of the reasons why even though it’s a very dense book, I think people like it because it’s still understandable and it’s still approachable and you can sit and read and understand it, so that’s one major piece of it.
That being said, it’s written as a book that’s not just a book you read through once, but it’s something that you’re meant to be able to come back to for years and find something new each time because your understanding of the system and of the tradition will grow and develop. And there will be some things that you’ll read the first time that you’ll come back to and you’ll have a different appreciation of even years later, and that was a deliberate thing that I did with the book at the same time.
MP: Oh, that’s great. And you perfectly described the way that I happened to have been utilizing it, of going through carefully, then going back, then making notes, then double-checking and all of that kind of thing. And so, again, I’ll just say how generous to write the book that you wished that you had. It really is a gift to those of us who are coming along to the topic afterwards to have it all laid out together in one tome like this.
MP: Yeah, so thank you. It is good. Don’t feel bad about recommending it.
MP: That’s what started this whole thing.
MP: I wanted this book on the list.
CB: I don’t feel too bad. I just want to preface it with that I feel a little bad–I’m going to have a slight modicum of humility–but I do otherwise think it deserves to be on this list. If you have this book along with the other five books that I recommended, it gives you as good of an overview as you’re going to get for starting out your studies of a complete overview of what Western astrology is, and its history, philosophy, and techniques; and so, it fills a very useful role in terms of that as the last major book that I wanted to recommend on this list. So just a very brief shoutout, honorable mentions, if that’s all right, if I can slide them in very quickly.
MP: Oh, of course. Absolutely.
CB: Okay, so my quick mention I wanted to have is James Holden’s book, A History of Horoscopic Astrology, which was published I believe in 1996. And this is my favorite book on the history of astrology that gives an overview of the past 3- or 4,000 years of Western astrology in a relatively concise, 350-page book. And it does this almost through a literary approach by primarily focusing on who were the major astrologers that you need to know about in each time period or each era.
So it’s a really cool way to learn about the history of astrology. It’s the best book on the history of astrology, or at least it’s my favorite; there’s other books on the history of astrology out there that are also good. But if you want to learn about the history of astrology especially, I would recommend getting a copy of this book just because it does an excellent job of giving you a broad overview.
James Holden was an astrologer who passed away in the early part of the last decade. And he was initially a classics scholar, and he had a gift for languages and could read and understand a bunch of different languages., and as a result of that he could read a lot of these texts in their original languages. And he spent like 50 or 60 years of his life just studying the history of astrology, until eventually, in 1996, he wrote this masterful book on the topic, which even, what, almost 20-30 years later is still probably the best book on the history of astrology that I know about today.
MP: Oh, wow. Cool.
CB: Yeah, so that’s one book. It’s gone through a few different editions at this point, but any of the editions are fine. And then, finally, the last book is titled The American Ephemeris, 1950-2050 at Noon: Transcentury Edition. So there’s the book; the authors are Neil F. Michelsen and Rique Pottenger. So this book is unlike our other books. It’s actually a book of planetary positions, which you can use in order to look up where the planets were at any point in the past, where they will be at any point in the future, or where they are right now in the present on the current day.
It basically is a table that shows you at the start of every day of the year what sign of the zodiac and what degree of the zodiac each of the planets was located in at the beginning of that day. So it’s a really helpful starting point for learning about timing and how the planets move, so that you can study them in terms of the timing technique of ‘transits’, as well as other timing techniques, like ‘secondary progressions’.
MP: Tell me why you recommend this. Do I have this ability in my software already?
CB: I guess technically the software has an ephemeris programmed into it. For example, in Archetypal Explorer, you move the chart forward or backwards; it’s basically presenting the same function. What’s nice about the ephemeris–and I guess I’m a little ‘old school’ in this way–is just it presents all of the data that you can see at once at a glance. And you can flip through so that you can move forward or backwards and look at where the planets are or where they will be at any point in the past or the future, just with a turn of the page.
So I think it just gives you a much easier access point for an overview of looking at planetary positions, and you start to get a much better sense of how the planets move in a way that I think is a useful alternative access point, in addition to just calculating them in charts using software.
MP: Okay, thanks. Yeah, I think you’re right. I’m going to check that out. I think it’s one of the things I was always grateful for. I don’t have to do it the old fashioned way because the software already does it. But you’re right. I’d probably find it very worth it to go back and learn how to do it this way. There’s something to be said for holding it too. Holding it, running my fingers along and seeing what’s going on.
CB: Yeah. I’m not too curmudgeonly about it, but I’m a big ‘print book’ fan. Even though there’s a Google Books version of my book, and e-book version of my book, I designed it to be read in print. And there’s something about a print book that is different in terms of the experience of reading it, not that you can’t get most of that or have a different relationship with books by reading e-books, which can be just as good. But especially with the print ephemeris, a lot of the astrologers that I talked to feel like it gives you a different access point into understanding the movements of the planets, and especially understanding planetary transits.
CB: Yeah, so when it comes to an ephemeris, I did an episode a few months ago with Patrick Watson–it was Episode 304, titled ‘How to Read an Ephemeris’–where we sort of go through and just show you what an ephemeris is and how to use it, which is kind of useful if you do end up getting one of these. This is basically what an ephemeris is; it’s just one of these books of planetary tables and just a list of data of the planetary movements through the signs of the zodiac.
But it’s hard to explain before you get one why it is useful, but I would just recommend that people do pick one up at some point relatively early in their studies. I’ve never had anybody that was resentful or was like, “I can’t believe you made me buy an ephemeris,” and sent me hate mail afterwards. Everyone’s always been like, “Okay, yeah, that was actually really useful, even though I didn’t understand how it could be just as a book of tables like that.” Once you get into timing techniques with astrology, especially transits, you really start to understand how valuable it is to read the ephemeris and develop an ability to flip through it easily and read the information that you’re looking at.
MP: Oh, nice. I mean, I’m sure I would need to look at the episode that you just recommended to kind of take me through. But yeah, it also sounds fascinating, so thank you.
CB: Yeah. So I think that’s it in terms of my list of top astrology books; this is my current list. And thanks for this opportunity to do this, and thanks for having this surprisingly unplanned, impromptu, and long astrology conversation. I guess if you were a listener of the podcast, or if you’ve listened to previous episodes, maybe you thought this was going to be a 25-minute discussion. You weren’t completely caught off-guard, but now you understand how it happens.
MP: I was caught off-guard.
MP: I can say that I’m so glad that I didn’t know or I would have been too nervous to go forward. But I kind of realized we’re going to take our time as I was already in the midst of it, so I just kind of was able to go with the flow.
CB: Okay, thank you.
MP: And it was really fascinating and wonderful to talk to you. The list is going to be a very, very truncated version of this conversation, but that will also be so useful for anyone who takes a look. And I hope this conversation, wherever it ends up, is really useful for folks as well.
CB: Yeah, for sure. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to have this discussion and to sort of update and revise a list that I put out with some of these books in the past. But I’d been looking for an opportunity to do a revised one that was up-to-date as of 2021 in terms of my current top picks for the best astrology books for beginners, so thanks for that opportunity.
MP: My pleasure.
CB: All right, well, good luck with the article. I’ll put a link to it once it’s out below the description for this episode. And I look forward to seeing that article and some of the others that you’re working on. So thanks a lot for joining me.
MP: Okay. All right, bye-bye.
CB: All right, thanks everyone for listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast, or whatever this episode ends up being, and we’ll see you again next time.
Special thanks to all of the patrons that supported the production of this episode of the podcast through our page on Patreon.com. In particular, thanks to the patrons on our Producers tiers, including: Nate Craddock, Thomas Miller, Catherine Conroy, Kristi Moe, Ariana Amour, Mandi Rae, Angelic Nambo, Sumo Coppock, Issa Sabah, Jake Otero, Morgan MacKenzie, and Kristin Otero.
If you like the work that I’m doing here on the podcast and you would like to find a way to support it, then please consider becoming a patron through my page on Patreon.com. And in exchange, you’ll get access to bonus content such as early access to new episodes, the ability to attend the live recording of the month ahead forecast each month, access to a private monthly auspicious elections report that we put out each month, access to exclusive episodes that are only available for patrons, or you can also get your name listed in the credits at the end of each episode. For more information, go to Patreon.com/astrologypodcast.
The main software we use here on the podcast to look at astrological charts is called Solar Fire for Windows, which is available at Alabe.com. And you can use the promo code ‘AP15’ to get a 15% discount. For Mac users, we use a similar set of software by the same programming team called Astro Gold for Mac OS, which is available from AstroGold.io. And you can use the promo code ‘ASTROPODCAST15’ to get a 15% discount on that as well.
If you would like to learn more about the approach to astrology that I outline on the podcast, then you should check out my book titled Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune where I traced the origins of Western astrology and reconstructed the original system that was developed about 2,000 years ago. And in this book, I outline basic concepts, but also, take you into intermediate and advanced techniques for reading a birth chart, including some timing techniques. So you can find out more about the book at HellenisticAstrology.com/book.
The book pairs very well with my online course on ancient astrology called the Hellenistic Astrology Course, which has over a hundred hours of video lectures where I go into detail about teaching you how to read a birth chart and showing hundreds of example charts in order to really demonstrate how the techniques work in practice. So find out more information about that at theAstrologySchool.com.
And finally, special thanks to our sponsors, including The Mountain Astrologer Magazine, which is available at MountainAstrologer.com; the Honeycomb Collective Personal Astrological Almanacs available at Honeycomb.co; the Portland School of Astrology at PortlandAstrology.org; and the Astro Gold Astrology App, which is available for iPhone and Android. You can find out more information about that at AstroGold.io.