The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 44, titled:
Conferences, Detriment, Legality of Astrology
With Chris Brennan and guest Leisa Schaim
Episode originally released on September 8, 2015
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released August 10th, 2020
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. For more information about subscribing to the show, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe.
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Today is Sunday, September 6, 2015, at approximately 3:14 PM, in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 44th episode of the show. In this episode, I’m going to be talking with Leisa Schaim about some miscellaneous recent events and pieces of news in the field of astrology.
Leisa, welcome to back.
LEISA SCHAIM: Thanks for having me.
CB: All right. Well, we’re actually barely on time to nail one of the first astrology elections for September, which is–what is it? It’s the Sagittarius rising chart on September 6th, with the Moon applying to a sextile with Jupiter. So I’m glad we were able to barely catch this election, and hopefully, this comes out well.
All right. So in terms of topics today, we’ve got kind of a mixture of different things; I wanted to start by talking about the first piece of news. The International Society for Astrological Research, otherwise known as ISAR, just concluded voting for speaker selection for their conference, and the speakers were chosen for who’s going to speak at the conference–which is going to take place next October in California–and the conference is focused on forecasting.
So I thought this was kind of interesting and noteworthy just as a piece of astrological news, but one of the things that’s interesting about it is they’re trying to do things a little bit differently this time and trying to innovate a little bit in the conference process by having voting.
And the way I understand it is that I don’t think it’s the entire faculty who was selected by voting; I think it was only a portion of it–like half, or 40%, or something like that. But nonetheless, it is still new and kind of unique for an astrological organization to open up the voting to their membership so that basically the speakers who get picked to speak are picked by the members, at least in part.
So that’s kind of interesting because this model has some interesting pros and some interesting cons that I wanted to talk about, just because it’s something I’ve been thinking about in terms of different conference models, and just how the astrological community works, and the areas where things go smoothly and the areas where there’s still room for improvement, or there’s still things that we’re working on.
So I guess first thing’s first. Leisa and I both lucked out and got speaking slots. So I’m going to be giving a talk there on zodiacal releasing and potentially giving a talk on the presidential panel at the end of the conference. And you’re giving a talk on what, Leisa?
LS: I’m doing a talk on the repetitions of annual profection years; so repeating themes that happen over and over during the course of one’s life.
CB: Okay. So using just the 12-year annual profection cycle?
LS: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Great. So we’re both going to be giving talks on Hellenistic time-lord techniques basically. First off, I guess I should thank our listenership or whoever voted for me after we asked you to in previous shows. So the good news is that I made it on, so I will be at the ISAR conference if any listeners of the podcast want to come, attend the conference, and then meet up in person at some point next year.
The bad news, unfortunately, is that Kelly Surtees didn’t make it on, which I was pretty disappointed and sort of surprised about. But, I don’t know, I’m still hopeful that somehow she’ll find a way to make it; I don’t know how. Maybe we can, I don’t know, kidnap one of the other astrologers and then have Kelly take their spot and pretend to be Rob Hand or somebody like that. But yeah, so that was the bad news.
I think the composition of the speaker selection highlighted some of the pros and cons of this new model that they’re attempting. On the one hand, the pros are that there’s actual member input in the process so that the membership of the astrological organization actually has some say in who gets selected to speak at the conference that’s being basically funded by the astrological organization or that community as a whole. So that kind of makes sense that the membership should have some input in that, so that’s a benefit.
And then, additionally, there’s greater transparency in terms of the speaker selection process; whereas at other conferences, sometimes it’s just the board, or it’s just a few people on the board of the organization or whoever’s organizing the conference that pick the individual speakers and basically the entire lineup for the conference. So it’s not really clear what went into that or what their process was.
With this, it’s pretty straightforward, where at least half of the people that were selected to speak at the conference, it was a vote that was put to the membership, and then they put up all of the final numbers once the vote was over. So greater transparency in the process I guess is one of the potential benefits.
The downsides though, or the cons that I was thinking about when it comes to this model that just seem evident to me and maybe worth talking about or thinking about as a community is that with this kind of model–where your membership is voting–name recognition is still the primary factor in the decision which has its pros and cons.
I mean, on the one hand, that makes sense from an organizer’s perspective and from an attendee’s perspective that you want big names at your conference because those are the people that are going to draw numbers to the conference, and those are also in turn the people that attendees want to see.
I mean, people want to go see, let’s say, Rob Hand or something at a conference because he’s very well-known, he’s done really important work, and that’s something that would push somebody in the direction of attending a conference vs. not attending a conference, you think?
LS: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think that that’s always going to be a priority in terms of the organizer just getting enough attendance and kind of has to be recognized as just one of those practical necessities.
CB: Sure. So name recognition is a big deal when it comes to voting. If some random astrologer or astrology enthusiast who’s a member of an organization looks at a list of people that they have to pick to vote on to speak on different tracks, there’s going to be certain names they recognize and other names that they don’t.
So one of the problems that comes along with that is that name recognition is not necessarily–sometimes it is. In the case of Rob Hand or somebody like that whose done really important work and has made great contributions to the community, sometimes name recognition does match the merit of the person’s skills and contributions to the community.
In other instances, there may be newer speakers who aren’t quite as well-known but who have just amazing insights into astrology. But if they’re not well-known, or they don’t have the same name recognition of Rob Hand or something like that then they’re not necessarily going to get picked.
That’s kind of the downside to–it’s not crowd sourcing–opening it up to a democratic vote; it becomes in some sense a popularity contest. And to that extent, that’s not going to open it up as much to some speakers that are not as well-known even if they have something really good to say.
So that’s actually one of the ways that certain conferences I think go out of their way. NORWAC, for example, the Northwest Astrological Conference, that’s more of a model where you have a single person running the conference or at least doing most of the organization, and therefore, picking out all of the speakers each year, which is Laura Nalbandian. But she definitely goes out of her way to try and mix it up in terms of picking big name speakers that will be a draw; but then also, she will try to bring in some new speakers pretty regularly at each conference and give people an opportunity to show their skills or demonstrate that they have something of value that will draw in people and present their research.
And it’s interesting that it’s almost that model where you have less of a democratic process and more of a–what’s the term? What would be the opposite in this context? It’s not like an authoritarian option.
LS: Yeah, that’s not the word that I was thinking of, but just kind of a top-down decision model.
CB: Yeah. I guess ‘dictator’ is also not right. But the model where you have a single person or you have a group of people just picking all of the speakers, sometimes if it’s in the right hands can result in a greater mix of being able to bring in new speakers because that person has the ability to go out of their way to find new speakers and say this is somebody who should have a platform to speak, even though they’re not very well-known. Whereas, in the democratic model, it really becomes more of a matter of name recognition primarily for most of the picks.
So I don’t want to push that too far because certainly there are some people that made it in that are not necessarily household names, but it’s just one potential drawback as we’re talking about the merits or the pros and cons of this new model that they’re putting together and presenting to the community.
CB: Other than making it harder for newer speakers to break into the lecture circuit, I think that’s really the main con. It’s interesting just to see people trying new things and trying to innovate on the basic model of doing astrological conferences, which has been going on for decades. And this brings me to another point that I’ve been thinking about a lot–especially over the past few months–which is just the generational differences in terms of getting paid for conferences and I think the need to still improve on some of the current models.
So I’m approaching this from–I don’t think it’s a unique perspective, but it’s from a specific perspective on somebody who is a full-time, practicing astrologer, who made that switch. I’ve been doing consultations for 10 years now–I think over 10 years now–and I made the switch to doing astrology full-time as my only source of income 5 years ago. So that means that when it comes to things like speaking at conferences and stuff, I look at this partially as an opportunity to go to a conference, attend lectures, and meet up with my friends and do that sort of thing, which is very much like how a normal attendee thinks of it.
But on the other hand, I also have to think of it as a business decision. I have to invest a bunch of time and money and effort into this in terms of flying out there and staying in a hotel and putting together a lecture–or two lectures, or even a full-day workshop–and how much time investment that’s going to take vs. how much I’m actually getting paid for it.
And one of the things that’s really interesting that I think people might not realize–if they’re not in that position as a practicing astrologer who’s speaking at conferences–and one of the things that’s kind of surprising to people once they get to that point is the realization that most astrologers actually don’t get paid very well for that. And the current models of speaking at conferences for the most part are set up so that they actually pay the speakers very little in terms of the amount of work that they’re putting into it.
So even though you go to a conference and you would attend a lecture or a talk by a speaker, you come to the conference most of the time specifically in order to hear certain people speak; and that’s because you have some perception of them having greater knowledge than you do, or having greater skills in astrology than you do or something that you want to learn from them.
I don’t want to overemphasize that and, let’s say, put upon a pedestal of some sort, but you assume that they’re getting paid decently for whatever work they’re doing at the conference; that’s not usually the case. The current model in the astrological community is kind of interesting when it comes to that.
I want to be careful because I’m not trying to bash anybody, or bash any current conferences or any current models necessarily. It was actually two or three months ago, I was out at some place and I was talking with this older astrologer. And she was a lot older–she was in her, I want to say late 80s–so she had seen a lot of changes in the astrological community over the past century; she was a practicing astrologer for many decades.
And she was complaining about the ‘younger’ generation of astrologers that came in and were all, from her perspective, ‘money hungry’ or just focused on money, and she said that she liked it better when no astrologers got paid to speak at conferences. And I realized what she was referring to after a little while was, back in the day–in the 1960s and ‘70s–when the American Federation of Astrologers was the only game in town–it was the only astrological organization that was organizing conferences–they did not pay speakers to speak at their conferences.
And when the newer generation, the Pluto in Leo generation came in, in the 1960s and ‘70s, one of the generational shifts that took place is that the Pluto in Leo generations eventually pushed to make it so that speakers were compensated some amount of money and they were paid to extent for the work that they were doing.
And what I realized in interacting with this older astrologer was that this was a huge generational shift that took place at some point and was not necessarily smooth. There was a lot of tension and a lot of in-fighting and stuff, where some of the younger generations of astrologers actually broke away from the American Federation of Astrologers and started setting up their own astrological organizations. And that’s where we get stuff like the NCGR, or ISAR, or AFAN, or what have you; it’s largely from breaking away from what was the establishment organization at the time.
And one of the tensions was just the mindset of the organizers at that time and of the organization at that time–the establishment organization–that, “You don’t need to be paid to speak,” or “You’re given a platform to speak and that’s sufficient, and we don’t need to pay you,” even though there’s lots of attendees who are attending this conference and are paying to attend, and all of the money is therefore just going to the organization or going to the organizers.
So at some point, a new generation came in, they changed things up, and they made it so astrologers were getting paid something. And what they changed it to is essentially what it is still today because that generation is basically still the one in charge at this point, and the ones that were in charge–if they were the only game in town–are now gone. So what we’re left with is the generation that came in and changed things in the ‘60s and ‘70s is now in charge, and what they changed it to at that time is still essentially the model.
And basically, a standard thing is that a person will get paid about, let’s say, $150, $125, give or take, a lecture. So for each lecture that you attend at an astrology conference, most of the speakers that are giving that lecture are only being paid something like $125, maybe $150 for whatever lecture they’re giving.
Sometimes it gets weird because what they do is they cover a little bit of the speaker’s hotel room because the organization or the conference organizers acknowledge that the speaker is also having to pay for a hotel room while they’re staying at whatever conference they’ve traveled to.
But instead of paying in single nights or paying for all of their hotel or something like that, usually they’ll say, “We’ll cover one-half of the fee that you pay for a room for one night–or for two nights–for each lecture that you do,” or something like that. So you get basically a fraction of whatever your hotel expenses are taken off as a result of giving a talk.
Additionally, most of the time you’ll get access to the banquet. Usually there’s a major banquet that takes place–and everyone gets dressed up–towards the end of the conference; most of the time that is comped. And you’ll also get free admission to the conference and either free admission to other workshops or at least a discount to other workshops. So for the most part, it’s you’re getting free admission to the conference in return for giving a talk or two, and you’re getting paid something pretty marginal, like $150 or $125 or something like that.
So that’s the standard today. ISAR is switching it up a little bit. I guess they’re trying to innovate or something, but what they’re saying is that they’re going to pay each speaker a minimum of $100, but primarily you’re going to get $12 for each person who attends your lecture. So if you have 10 people, then it’s 10 x 12, or $120 you’ll get paid if you had 10 people at your lecture.
So again, it’s another one of those things where they’re trying to innovate but there’s going to be some positive things and some drawbacks. On the one hand, you can see how they’re trying to create a merit-based system where people that go out of their way to advertise and promote and really draw in the most new people to the conference will get paid more. But then the problem with that is, or one of the problems is that there’s going to be at least five or six different people talking in different rooms at the same time and the speaker has no control over who’s going to be speaking at the same time that they are.
And so, you’re going to run into this issue where even if the speaker has done a really good job in advertising, and even if they have something really good to say and they’ve done an amazing talk, if you get put up against somebody like, let’s say, Rob Hand, or somebody that’s like a superstar in the astrological community–if somebody like that is speaking at the same time–then that’s automatically going to draw most of the attendees into your room. So there’s things still outside of control which can seriously harm how much you’re making at this conference, and you could be walking away with just $100 or something measly like that. So it’s a bit of an interesting problem.
LS: Yeah. I mean, I’m really glad to congratulate ISAR for trying something new and trying to innovate and seeing how it goes. There’s often complaints if there’s a single model–people doing things the way it’s always been done–so it’s great just to see people trying new things. I agree with you about some of the potential drawbacks.
My main thing, I guess, is two things–there’s the matter of the purpose of a conference. And I think that the purpose for a speaker–certainly, as you said–you have to think of it as a business decision as well as just it’s good to see everyone in your community.
But it is a networking opportunity and so there is a lot of that that maybe isn’t directly compensated; but it’s still worth going oftentimes even if you’re not making a lot from it. So I guess there’s some intangibles or some potential indirect benefits you get from attending conferences aside from the direct compensation.
CB: Right. And people are supposed to be doing consultations or something while they’re there, or getting people interested in signing up for classes, or getting consultations outside of the conference or something like that.
LS: Right. Yeah, it can be a toss-up.
LS: Yeah, it can be hard to actually do that in practice; then you don’t get so much of the networking part if you’re trying to just do consultations while you’re there to make up for the cost.
CB: Yeah. Mark Jones, when we go to NORWAC, we see him for like five minutes usually around midnight because he’s trying to do consultations the whole time. And that’s theoretically what you’re supposed to be doing, I guess, if you really want to not come out of the conference with a loss; you’re supposed to be up in your hotel room doing consultations with people the whole time. But if you do that, or if every speaker did that then conferences would be a ghost town in terms of many of the speakers and attendees not actually being engaged in the conference, but instead being off somewhere doing a separate thing. There’s something about that that seems problematic to me, so it’s not something that I usually do.
LS: Right. So I do think also in theory one could consider, as I was saying a minute ago, about this being a networking opportunity–having either intangible or indirect financial benefits–and taking it as a necessary loss in some sense financially, to make it up somewhere else. But then obviously, I know that the money still has to come from somewhere and it’s often not cheap to attend a conference even if you are speaking; you often break-even if that.
But my second thought about this is that it’s always a balance. And so, I think there’s no perfect model. I think there’s ways to innovate and try different models, but I think there’s always going to be pluses and minuses.
And my concern sometimes when people complain a lot about not getting paid more is that a necessary flipside to that would be if speakers were paid a lot more, there would necessarily be fewer speakers. And so, I think then you get back into the territory of complaints about the same big names speaking because the money has got to be distributed one way or another.
I know you’ve talked about possibilities of how can conferences make more money so that they can afford to pay more. But I do think an important piece for people to remember is that if you’re looking for greater pay per speaker, it’s just going to cut down on the number of speakers overall, and probably almost certainly make it even harder to get in as a newer or younger speaker.
CB: Right. So the current models are not good in the sense that they don’t pay astrologers appropriately whatsoever; that’s the negative side. The positive side is it does allow for these larger conferences where you can have more speakers giving different types of talks. And I definitely think that has to be taken into account and that’s sort of the thing that makes it okay on some level.
I guess my issue is just I partially see this as a generational shift that has to take place. The last generation of astrologers–the Pluto in Leo generation or what have you, in the 1960s and ‘70s–came in and they said, “Look, AFA people, it’s not okay for us to not get paid anything. We’re trying to treat astrology as a profession. We are all professionals. We’re coming here to share our knowledge and wisdom and we should be getting compensated something for that, even if we’re not getting paid wild amounts of money for it.” And they did it, and they found a way to change the models to make that happen, and it worked. I think though what happened is that the community got kind of complacent with sitting with that current model.
And even though now, for example, at some of the recent conferences, there’s some minor changes that are taking place and little modifications of that model in order to do things kind of different or slightly innovatively, it hasn’t changed the fundamental thing when it comes to speakers getting paid; there’s not been much innovation. If anything, there’s been losses or a step backwards where people are getting paid less in some instances or in some ways with some of these new innovations in the conferences; and so, I think another generational shift has to take place.
And I don’t necessarily accept the idea that it has to be this way, that it’s like this black-or-white thing between either we have small conferences that only have a handful of speakers that get paid decently or we have larger conferences with lots of speakers but they don’t get paid well at all. I think there’s got to be ways to improve on the current models by finding different and new and innovative ways to bring in more money from the conferences so that you can pay the speakers better and pay them appropriately.
And I feel like that’s one of the generational shifts that has to take place with whatever the new generation of astrologers is. I mean, I’m Pluto in Scorpio; but certainly, there’s the Pluto in Virgo and Pluto in Libra, and eventually, the Pluto in Sagittarius generations just to, let’s say, broadly divide up different generations of astrologers.
And the current model, I mean, if you really break it down, what it means essentially is that professional astrologers from all over the world or all over the country are flying out to conferences and they’re paying other people basically to teach other people astrology. So the current model has professional astrologers paying to teach other people astrology and that doesn’t make any sense. And it’s not the model outside of the conferences; the conferences are the only weird oddities where that’s happening.
In other areas, outside of the conferences, that’s obviously different, and there’s already been changes so that astrologers have found ways to support themselves by teaching classes, by sometimes holding or organizing their own intensives, or teaching online courses and stuff like that; basically doing things that are actually lucrative for or at least could help support the finances as a professional, practicing, full-time astrologer.
But basically, my argument is the current model doesn’t make any sense, and it’s not good from a professional standpoint because we’re not treating the leaders in the community as professionals and we’re not supporting them by actually paying them decently; especially for the work that goes into some of these lectures.
And maybe that’s a generational difference as well. I don’t know; I don’t want to necessarily want to say that too much. But there is a difference between if I was just walking in off the street and just giving some lecture on some blow-off topic off the top of my head, then maybe getting paid $100 or $150 would be appropriate.
But I know, at least for myself and a lot of other astrologers I know–especially younger astrologers that I’ve interacted with–they put a lot of work into preparing for each lecture that they do. And they spend months ahead of time working on their lectures and getting them together, and just countless hours preparing for what is just a very brief, 75-minute talk because they want to teach what they know to their audience and they want to do it the best they can; and that’s what should be compensated.
We should be taking into account how much work is going into this and that the speakers–especially since the entire conference focuses on the speakers and is centered around the speakers–should not have to be taking a loss in order to go teach other people what they know. So there’s got to be ways to innovate on the current model to bring in more money.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about for awhile is I was surprised that astrology conferences are not doing video yet. So it’s like 2015, and still all we’re doing is audio recordings. I mean, 10 years ago, I was still buying actual cassette tape recordings–they only did cassette tapes–and then eventually, more recently, they’ve caught up and done CDs. And then more recently, we’re finally starting to switch over to digital downloads for some of the conferences, but nobody’s really doing video.
The only conference I know that did video was the Blast Astrology Conference that Moses Siregar organized, and he was able to pay speakers more. That was something he seemed to be more conscientious of where he had both a variety of different speakers but he also did a pretty good job of compensating them.
And one of the things that he did differently was he had Kelly Lee Phipps there, who was in the process of recording Return of the Magi. He had Kelly there recording videos of each of the lectures so that afterwards on Moses’ website, you can still go there to this day and purchase either an audio recording, or for extra money, you can purchase a video recording.
And I realize that’s complicated and there’s a lot of overhead that would go into recording and editing and then subsequently selling videos, but it’s entirely doable; it just hasn’t been done because nobody has any motivation to do it. For the most part, nobody’s that concerned with paying astrologers more or changing the current model because the community has gotten complacent. It’s just like that’s the way it is, so nobody’s really talking about what we could do to change it.
So that’s what we were doing here with this discussion, and it was just sort of a discussion that I’ve been thinking about a lot as I’ve been seeing a lot of these new conferences coming up and getting organized and getting scheduled. So the ISAR conference is taking place in October of 2016.
And then the NCGR is also hosting a conference in Baltimore, in February of 2017, and Leisa and I also both got invitations to speak there. So we sort of have some familiarity with what the different conference models are offering speakers at this point, and that was one of the things that generated a lot of discussion between us recently, or a lot of thoughts for me especially.
I shouldn’t put this on you because I don’t want you to get in trouble. This is mainly me thinking about this, especially as somebody who’s been a full-time as an astrologer for the past five years and would like to see some innovation. So the video thing is one way that I could easily see where the current conference model could innovate in order to bring in more money, in order to pay speakers better. It would just take some extra effort on the part of the community or the organizers. But I think there’s other ways as well.
There’s definitely other ways to innovate on the current conference models; it’s just a matter of doing it. So I don’t know. We’ll have to see what happens. If somebody else doesn’t do it then we might have to do it at some point here in Denver. But maybe we’ll have to save that for another discussion.
LS: Yeah. And one more thing I wanted to say about that is definitely if there are new innovations that people have thought of and just haven’t brought to organizers for conferences, they should definitely bring them up. I know it’s very easy for any community to pretty benignly get used to whatever model just because it takes less effort to duplicate a model than to make a new one.
But on the flipside, I do want to say that the in-person conferences do have a level of overhead that teaching classes locally or online often don’t. And just as sort of a devil’s advocate, for some of these pieces, it’s kind of a juggling act between speaker payments and the physical overhead of getting a hotel for that many people, that many attendees, as well as the cost for the attendees. You don’t want to hike that up either so that it’s unaffordable for attendees, whether they’re also speakers or whether they just want to come and learn.
So it is a juggling act of several different factors, and I think that it’s important for people who do want to innovate to actually try to get involved and see how it actually all comes about. Sometimes there’s assumptions that someone’s making a great deal of money off of everyone else’s efforts, and I don’t think that’s usually the case.
And so, I would definitely encourage newer or younger community members that do have any innovations to offer to actually start getting involved. Most of these conferences do require a large number of volunteers, both before the event as well as during. So it would really be great to get more hands involved and more ideas.
CB: Yeah, definitely. And I’m definitely–what’s the term when you’re quarterbacking?
LS: Armchair commentator.
CB: Yeah, that’s the role I’m playing here because I’m certainly not organizing any conferences at the moment. And while I’ve been involved in some low-level things–like organizing a day-long symposium at one of the NCGR conferences, or other little, minor things like that–that’s definitely armchair coaching or quarterbacking at this point.
But nonetheless, I’m just saying it from the perspective of one person who plays a role in terms of the conference dynamic, which is the speaker–the low-to-mid-level speaker who’s going to a conference and giving a lecture or maybe a workshop; or maybe two lectures, or something like that–but still essentially taking a loss just for the sake of whatever it is that one gets out of going to a conference…
CB: …which is a few different things in terms of your professional profile. But you–at least for the conference, for a part of the conference itself–end up taking a loss and hoping for some long-term benefits in terms of networking and getting greater exposure and things like that. So I think there’s ways that we can innovate. I hope that we do so as a community in the future. But obviously, it’s going to take some balance to get it right.
All right. So I think that’s enough for that topic now that we’ve talked about it for way longer than we had originally anticipated. We had two or three other topics; so let’s start hitting them pretty quickly. So the first one is a research project that I’ve been doing lately–and I’ve been working on this for a few years–and it’s the search for an alternative term for the concept of detriment.
As most people know, or most people who have some familiarity with traditional astrology know, detriment is when a planet is in the sign that’s opposite to its domicile, or opposed to the sign that the planet rules. So for example, Mercury has its domicile in Gemini, and so, it has its detriment in the sign of Sagittarius.
And this is generally thought–at least in traditional texts–to be somewhat challenging or somewhat problematic for the planet to the extent that the planet in its domicile was seen to be an auspicious or positive placement; a planet opposite to its domicile was seen to be, at the very least, somewhat tricky, or somewhat problematic. So the issue that I’ve had with this and what led to this research project is that detriment wasn’t really talked about a lot in the early part of the Western tradition.
Western astrology, for all intents and purposes, originates around the 1st century, and for the first few centuries of the practice of Western astrology, we don’t see a lot of references to the concept of detriment. So they had introductory textbooks where they defined basic concepts like a planet being in its domicile, or a planet being in its exaltation, or a planet being in its fall or depression.
They defined all of the basic concepts of what later became known as essential dignity, but they mysteriously don’t refer to planets ‘in detriment–and basically don’t characterize that or don’t define it as a basic principle or concept–which left an open question about whether the concept of detriment was recognized in the early Hellenistic tradition.
In fact, this is so pronounced in the early Hellenistic tradition that even in Indian astrology today, they don’t really seem to recognize the concept of detriment in most of that tradition; and I think that’s because of the transmission of Hellenistic astrology in the 1st or 2nd century CE. They’re still drawing on that early Hellenistic tradition where it’s kind of ambiguous about whether the concept of detriment was recognized; and it at least certainly was not explicitly outlined in any of the Greek texts.
So there are a few traces and references from certain astrologers that detriment might be problematic or that that placement might be problematic, especially as the tradition goes on. And then eventually, by the 7th century, by the time of Rhetorius of Egypt, the concept of detriment was fully recognized and defined. And he talks about it extensively as a difficult or problematic placement because the sign in which a planet has its detriment is opposite to a planet’s domicile and it’s ruled by a planet that has antithetical or opposite qualities from the planet.
So for example, Venus has its domicile in Taurus or Libra and the signs opposite to that are both ruled by Mars, which is antithetical or opposite in its quality or its significations to Venus. Similarly, the two luminaries have their domiciles opposite to Saturn. So both of the luminaries represent light and Saturn is usually seen to represent darkness, so there’s an opposite or contrary quality.
And even Mercury and Jupiter both have their domiciles opposite each other; so Mercury indicating very small things, for example, and Jupiter indicating very big things as one random signification. This is just an example of the opposing or the contrary quality of the sign that’s ruled by a planet opposite to its own domicile.
So one of the issues that comes up is that even though they start recognizing it by the late Hellenistic tradition and talking about it as a concept, they don’t actually really have a name for it. And Rhetorius, he refers to it in Greek as enantioma, which means, according to the lexicon, “anything opposite or opposed; an obstacle or a hindrance.”
And Schmidt originally translated it as ‘contrary’ or ‘contrariety’, but that’s a little clunky to call it ‘the place of a planet’s contrariety’. It’s a little bit clunky and not quite the same as saying detriment or domicile or something like that. I think later Schmidt revised that and started calling it anti-domicile.
But the issue with that is that it’s not really descriptive of what the placement means in any interpretive sense; but instead, it’s just descriptive in literally saying that it’s the sign that’s opposite to a planet’s domicile. In many of the Hellenistic texts, they would focus more on describing or using a keyword for a technical term that actually conveyed something about the underlying interpretive meaning after underlying the concept rather than just using something that was purely descriptive.
So this led me to this long-standing issue that I’ve been getting more and more interested in over the past few years. Because detriment wasn’t recognized in the early Hellenistic tradition, I wasn’t sure if it was a valid concept and if I should recognize it, and if it was useful as a concept in my own practice. Over the past several years, I realized that it was and that it did have legitimate meaning and did have some problematic things surrounding it when a planet was in that placement.
Now that doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world, or that there’s not mitigating factors that can’t come into play if a planet is in its detriment, but it is something that should be taken into account as a potential factor for interpretation and something that could be potentially problematic.
So once I started recognizing the concept several years ago, I realized that we needed a name for it. And I didn’t really like the name that got adopted in some of the later English texts–which is detriment–because it really doesn’t fully convey the underlying meaning of the term, nor does it really convey anything about what the Greek term was trying to convey. So I’ve been trying to come up with a term for detriment that could be used sense there was no term in the Hellenistic tradition, but it appears to have been recognized towards the end; so that leaves an opening for some new term to be used.
So one of the things I’ve been playing with for awhile is the notion that a planet’s detriment is like the antithesis of a planet being in its domicile because the domicile lord of the sign of detriment is antithetical to the planet that’s in its detriment there. So for example, Mars is antithetical in some sense, or is the antithesis of Venus. So when Venus is in, let’s say, Aries or Scorpio, that’s the antithesis of Venus’ basic nature in some way. So it’s having to take on significations and it’s in an environment that is contrary to or is very opposite to its own basic inclinations, and that results in some interesting and weird things sometimes.
But as much as I like to play with that conceptually–antithesis–I didn’t really think that that could catch on or be used in practice because it sounded too weird and it sounded a bit clunky. I don’t know. Did I ever run that by you, Leisa?
LS: Yeah, I think momentarily. I don’t know; I actually like antithesis. I think it really conveys more of the precision of the meaning. I don’t know; they all sound clunky. I don’t think that antithesis sounds any clunkier than detriment, and I think sometimes it’s just a matter of words catching on and people becoming used to them.
CB: Right. Okay, well, that’s one possibility, antithesis. And I think some of the modern astrologers or modern psychological astrologers, if they’re open to using planetary dignities and debilities–or essential dignity–antithesis might be the more neutral term in some way, compared to the other one that I’m about to introduce.
They might be more open to that one as being a little bit more neutral–and not value neutral. It obviously has some value that’s being attributed to it, but at least it’s a little bit less negative than, let’s say, detriment, for example. Again, antithesis is obviously more describing something specific rather than just saying it’s bad or saying it’s detrimental’.
LS: Yeah, exactly.
CB: So one of the things that came up recently is a student of my Hellenistic course–in one of the online private forums that I have for students of my Hellenistic course–named Penelope Sitter, she was using the term exile. I noticed her using the term exile when she was referring to detriment a few times and I thought it was kind of interesting; because I remember hearing this a long time ago but it’s been awhile, and I hadn’t been thinking about this issue when I had heard that term before.
So I was curious and I asked her where it came from, and she pointed out it came from Morinus; that Morinus uses it all the time. I’m not that familiar with Morinus at the point; I apologize to any Morinus fans who are listening to this right now.
But I was curious if it went back further–because I have more familiarity with the early Medieval tradition–so I asked Benjamin Dykes about it and he pointed out a passage in Sahl, where Ben is trying to say that it’s possible that that’s what he’s referring to. Because Sahl uses a term that could mean exile, but it also is basically the root term which in Latin gets translated into what later Lilly-type astrologers will know as peregrine; and peregrine means ‘foreign’, or ‘to be away from home’, or ‘in a foreign place’ essentially.
And this is in one of Sahl’s 50 Judgments; I think it’s in Judgment 44 which Ben pointed out. I’m still going back and forth with Ben on this, and he’s actually retranslating from the Arabic this whole book of Sahl right now. So he’s getting to a different access point on that text than what he had published previously in 2008, which was a translation from the Latin.
So in the Latin text though, it seems–to me, at least–clear that it’s more like Sahl is setting a distinction between planets that are in their domicile or exaltation being planets that are ‘at home’, and planets that are not in their domicile or exaltation being ‘away from home’ and being like ‘foreigners’ in some sense.
And that’s an interesting progression to me that makes the concept of using the term exile for detriment kind of a logical extension of that, so that if a planet in its domicile is like a planet that’s ‘at home’, then a planet that’s not in its domicile and in any of the other places is like a planet that is peregrine or is, let’s say, ‘away from home’, which is kind of a neutral statement to make. It’s not saying it’s bad or good necessarily; it’s not the best because it’s not at its home where it would be the strongest or most comfortable. But it’s away from home and therefore there’s some sense of less stability about it.
But then if you take that further, the third concept that can be integrated then in that conceptual framework is a planet being in the sign that’s exactly opposite to its home–which is the sign of detriment–and that is what you would refer to as exile. So the progression would be domicile, peregrine or ‘away from home’, and then finally, exile, which would be conveying the concept of not just being away from home but being in not a good situation in some sense while at the same time being away from home.
So after playing with the idea of calling it ‘the place of a planet’s antithesis’, I started playing with this idea of talking about it as ‘the place of a planet’s exile’. I like it because it’s conceptually tied in with the notion of planets either being ‘at home’ in their own domicile or being ‘away from home’ if they’re not. The only potential drawback with it–and I’m still playing with this–is that it does not convey the other conceptual notion of a planet in the sign being problematic because that sign and its ‘domicile lord’ have opposite or antithetical qualities or significations. So it doesn’t convey this concept of opposite-ness or contrariety, or this notion of it being the antithesis of a planet’s basic nature.
So I wanted to just present this. This is something that’s only come up recently; I’ve been thinking about it for awhile. But this new development with the term exile sort of came into play recently and got me thinking about it again. So I just wanted to start this discussion and open it up as something that I’m currently thinking about and working out and trying to come to a conclusion on, so that I can establish what term I want to use in my own practice going forward; if I want to adopt the term antithesis or if I want to use the term exile, or if I want to find some other term. Maybe there’s another term that works even better or other arguments.
I mean, somebody could try to make an argument that detriment should be retained for some reason, I would like to see somebody argue; or somebody of course could try and argue that none of these terms should be used because they put too much value on it, or something like that. So the point was just to open up the discussion, and I wanted to present that as a running series of thoughts that I’m working on in terms of this concept.
So what’s your vote, exile or antithesis?
LS: Well, I would love to hear if there are any other third or fourth possibilities. I agree with the conceptual development that’s kind of nice and neat in terms of exile, of being ‘away from home’ in extremity; I do, however, think there might be a problem with it. That part’s nice, but exile–to me, anyway–sounds even more negative than detriment.
LS: It sounds like, “Oh, my god! There’s no hope.” You’re just completely exiled.
CB: Yeah, this is not a term you would be using with clients.
LS: Right, exactly. And also, like you said, the antithesis conveys an important meaning there that isn’t captured by the others. So I kind of like antithesis better, I think.
CB: Okay. Well, we will open it up and hopefully hear back from some listeners and hopefully start this as a community discussion that can hopefully lead in a specific direction and result in some specific decision on where to go with this.
So the only other thing related to that that I thought was kind of interesting is there was one person who pointed out that in the Indian tradition–I think it was Eric Strand on my Facebook page. He pointed out that in some traditions of Indian astrology that they do recognize detriment. Actually it was Eric Strand but it was also Penelope Sitter who pointed out that they do recognize detriment, but they say that it’s easily mitigated if there’s a benefic that’s configured to the placement.
So I like this as a concept as well because I think it matches very well with my experience of detriment. Because one of the things that people–especially modern astrologers–are sometimes very quick to do when a traditional astrologer says something like planets in detriment are bad or problematic in some way is to just to pull up a list of people that have planets in detriment and show how they did okay, or they still did fine or even excelled with those placements.
And this is where I think this concept of mitigating or nullifying factors comes into play, which is the notion that it’s problematic, but it can potentially be easily contradicted or turned around into an okay or even positive placement if there are positive, mitigating factors like having benefics closely-configured to the planet that’s in its detriment. Because then what you have is the scenario of a person that has something that’s like a weakness or a sore spot, but it’s something that they’re able to overcome and make work for them, or eventually make it something that they excel at and is a benefit.
Whereas the other scenario could be, let’s say, somebody that has a planet in detriment but then it does not have any configuration from benefics, or in fact it’s being maltreated by malefics. So it has some negative configurations or placements from the malefics that are making it worse, in which case they have a weakness or a sore spot. But then it’s something that they’re never able to overcome or drags them down permanently and they’re never able to turn the tables on it when it comes to whatever that placement means in terms of that specific area of their life.
And I think that makes a lot of sense and ties back into the conversation I had with Michael Ofek earlier this year, just in terms of the importance of mitigating factors in traditional astrology in order to get the full picture. And so, while we might be talking about a concept like this–like detriment or exile or antithesis–it’s a placement that is one consideration that has to be taken into account as potentially problematic unless there are other mitigating factors that are present, which could offset it significantly. So I just wanted to throw that in there as another piece of this for anybody who might be initially thrown off by the concept or talking about essential dignities in this way, or even just as a throwaway thing for people that are already familiar with it.
I mean, one of the things I noticed in the ‘Lilly’ people–or the people that were the first wave of traditional astrologers that focused on William Lilly’s texts and on horary–is that they really focused on and was a big innovation was the concept of essential dignity. But I’m not sure if it was just in Lilly or if it was just that’s how it was received in the late 20th and early 21st century, there was almost an overemphasis on dignity as a black-and-white factor or as the only factor.
And other considerations that used to be just as important or at least crucially important in that interpretation–like sect–weren’t really recognized or they didn’t know about it, so that essentially dignity almost becomes the only thing that you’re paying attention to so that there’s almost too much emphasis being paid attention to it. I wanted to mention this concept of a mitigating factor in terms of your debilitated planet being counteracted by the aspects from benefics or malefics as a relevant and integral consideration to looking at a planet’s basic condition through essential dignity.
I know that’s something you’ve actually put a lot of emphasis on in your lectures and in your research just with Saturn returns that we talked about earlier this year, right, Leisa?
LS: Yeah. I was really impressed by discovering how much that mattered. Initially, I was looking at sect and Saturn returns, seeing so many that were surprisingly one side or the other in terms of really constructive or really difficult for the person without being constructive.
But when I started seeing the mitigating factors, interviewing people about their Saturn returns, and being really surprised by it not turning out exactly the way I would think, it was just huge. The benefit aspecting the Saturn, even in a night chart, can just make a world of difference and make it so much more constructive. So I really started paying attention to the mitigating factors in a major way after starting to hear people’s stories around that.
And the other thing that’s really important, obviously if people are already using traditional rules, you would already be thinking about this. But for anyone who’s not just thinking about the idea of detriment or planetary dignities, it’s really important, as Chris said, to put the other factors in there like mitigations, but also, the entire picture and the entire tool set.
So in particular, I find that when people pull out a planet in detriment or something like that, saying they were this prominent career person and everything turned out great, they’re usually not taking into consideration that it’s not ruling the person themself maybe.
Oftentimes, it’ll be ruling some other discrete area of the person’s life, say, maybe their siblings or their parents. And when you look into their biography then you see it actually was a lot more difficult for that part of their life, even if not for the other part that they were more well-known for. So that’s a really important thing to keep in mind as well.
CB: Right. That came up at the debate last year. When the argument came to essential dignity, it was like, “This person has this planet in detriment and they were really successful in their career, so that invalidates the concept.” But then you point out, well, no, it’s actually ruling their 7th house and they did terribly in relationships, and that was actually the part of their life that they struggled with the most.
Even though career was something that they succeeded or excelled at, this planet is specifically tied into relationships in their life, so that does not make the point, or it contradicts the points. It actually shows that this is a working concept because it’s actually describing the circumstances surrounding that particular part of the life rather than some universal statement about the life in general.
LS: Exactly. So you’ve got to use everything together.
CB: Right. Okay. And for you, with Saturn returns–as we discussed earlier–you take sect into account so that day-chart Saturns tend to have easier Saturn returns and night-chart people tend to have more difficult Saturn returns. That’s counteracted if a person has a night-chart but they have Saturn in its own domicile or exaltation, or possibly even mutual reception; then they’ll tend to experience the Saturn return more easily or more smoothly than somebody that has a night-chart and no mitigations.
LS: Exactly. Yeah, there’s a lot of shades of gray in there that are important.
CB: Yeah. Okay, cool. Well, I think that does it for that topic. So moving on to the next topic that we wanted to talk about, recently, you’ve been researching the legality of astrology for an article that’s going to appear in a book that’s being put together by the Organization for Professional Astrologers, or OPA.
And yeah, you’ve been doing some really interesting research about that, so I just wanted to talk about that a little bit in terms of what you found and what interested you as you were looking into the legality of astrology more.
LS: Yeah. So basically, AFAN–the organization that I’m the presiding officer of–has been doing legal work on behalf of astrologers ever since it began in the ‘80s; and so, it’s something that I already was familiar with, being the prior legal chair before becoming presiding officer.
OPA asked AFAN to contribute a chapter about legal issues with astrology to their upcoming book. And so, Robbie Woodliff–who’s the current legal chair–and I collaborated on the content, and then a few other people on the AFAN steering committee worked on some edits; so it was a nice collaborative effort. So I was already familiar with a lot of the legal issues, but it was kind of interesting to find some miscellaneous things in the process of fact-checking everything.
So basically, if you don’t know too much about where the legality falls with astrology these days, it’s very specific to your location; so even your small town that you live in can have an ordinance against fortune-telling or not. There are a few states that it’s completely legal because that would have to have gone to a state supreme court decision; so California, for instance, it is legal.
So it’s very specific to place. There’s a lot of laws…
CB: So it went to a supreme court decision, when?
LS: Yeah, I’ll talk about that in a second. It was a 1985 court decision, Azusa vs.–I’m forgetting the full title–but it was Azusa, California; that’s the city. Anyway, yeah, there was a case that went all the way to the California Supreme Court in 1985, and it actually was decided in favor of fortune-telling being a free speech issue.
And that’s largely what it’s been in the last few decades; that’s largely how things have been decided either informally or in some of the cases that have actually gone to trial, which…
CB: And that specific case set a precedent?
LS: It kind of did. So basically, the situation in the 1980s was that there were a lot of anti-fortune-telling laws either already on the books, people getting in trouble with them, or city councils trying to enact new anti-fortune-telling ordinances. It was the last Saturn in Scorpio transit, and I think it was around the same time as the satanic panic. There was a lot of fear it seemed around occult things in general.
CB: The ‘satanic panic’?
CB: For those that were not–such as myself–what was the ‘satanic panic’ that you referred to?
LS: It was pretty crazy, and very sadly, destructive of lives. So there were all these cases against daycare workers in particular, and there were these allegations–it was very strange. I mean, it’s very strange looking back on it. I wasn’t an adult at the time, but reading about it later, I can only imagine what it would have been like when it was going on to read about these things and think they were true potentially.
So there were all these allegations being made in certain spots against daycare workers, saying that they were doing satanically-based abuse of kids, and there were all these crazy, elaborate stories. And I haven’t read about it recently, so I’m not pulling up all the details right now, but eventually, it was found out that a lot of these cases were based on inappropriate interviewing, like very repetitive, insistent interviewing of very young children, such that they would start making up stories.
CB: We don’t have to go into it too much.
CB: I’m just looking at an article and it says, “The recent phenomenon of ‘satanic panic’ originated during the 1970s and gained traction during the 1980s and ‘90s, where a widespread belief took hold within American evangelical Christianity that a vast, underground network of satanists is control of secular society.”
CB: So that was part of the background to a bunch of anti-fortune-telling and anti-astrology laws becoming more prominent or becoming enforced again?
LS: You know, I think that it was sort of part and parcel potentially of just that general fear of occult things going on. So there were a lot of people running afoul of anti-fortune-telling laws in the 1980s, astrologers, and some in the 1990s; it seemed like the concentration really was a lot in the 1980s.
So yeah, 1985, there was an important case, Azusa, in California; it went to the California Supreme Court. And that was important because they usually don’t rise that far in terms of appeals.
And since it did, and it was decided against the anti-fortune-telling law being constitutional, that was very useful in terms of being persuasive for other either proposed or actual anti-fortune-telling ordinances in other places, even though it would only be useful as actual case precedent in California.
Well, not useful; it would only be binding in California in terms of that being a legal precedent. But since it rose so high, to the state supreme court, it could totally be used as persuasive case precedent in other places.
LS: I’m speaking of U.S. cases, of course. It’s important to say the nature of the law itself is very specific to the location you’re at; so this is all U.S. stuff.
CB: And that was actually an interesting point that you came across as well. And I remember seeing a talk by Kim Farnell on this at one point about the development of some of the anti-astrology laws in the UK–over a century ago or longer–and how many of those developed into the laws that are still on books today but they’re just not enforced. But some of the U.S. laws get derived from anti-fortune-telling laws and anti-vagrancy laws from England.
LS: Yeah, exactly. I found the full text of the Evangeline Adams trial from 1914, and it did say that we get our laws from the Vagrancy Act from England. And it was really interesting seeing those early cases too that weren’t exactly essential to what I was doing, but since I found them, I was like, “Oh, I wonder what these actually say specifically.”
The Evangeline Adams one, it was kind of crazy. If you read the full text–which you can get online in Google Books for free–it would be so funny to imagine that happening today, because there was so much detail. Basically, they were going through in the actual trial so much detail into how you would actually interpret a chart, and I just couldn’t imagine that happening in a trial today. It would be much more based on the legal arguments and so forth.
CB: Okay. So Evangeline Adams was brought up on charges, and that was the one that we talked about recently on the podcast, an episode or two ago. Her case supposedly got dismissed when she delineated an anonymous chart and said that the person had died of drowning, and supposedly, it turned out to be the judge’s son or something like that, and that was why the case was dismissed.
You looked into this a little bit, at least in terms of seeing that court report and seeing that while it was dismissed, it wasn’t clear how much that came into play.
LS: Yeah. It was a hundred years ago, so I don’t know the full details of how this was written up after the fact, and whether that was looked at outside of what was written up or not. What it sounded like in the actual transcript of the decision was a lot of questioning about the technique involved in what she was saying, and the judge deciding that there was a system to it, or that she seemed reputable, or this combination of things. He just decided that she wasn’t running afoul of the anti-fortune-telling law because she wasn’t the stereotype of it, I guess.
CB: And at that point already, they were focusing on the distinction between character interpretation versus prediction?
LS: So it was interesting to see some of the references in the earlier part of the 20th century and a couple of cases referring to character interpretation versus prediction. I’ve always heard that in reference to Alan Leo’s case in England in the early 20th century that he tried to revise his texts based on the law being against prediction, trying to make it all into personality and character interpretation. But I hadn’t heard that in the U.S. so much, but I did find a couple of cases referring to character interpretation being okay and not fortune-telling.
CB: Not prediction.
LS: Exactly. It did put them against each other, so that’s interesting. But thankfully, I haven’t seen too much of that in the more recent times.
CB: So that stopped coming up at some point later. So in the late ‘70s, and especially in the ‘80s, I’ve heard from other astrologers–and I think I discussed it a few episodes ago–that part of the motivation for Kepler College was Maggie Nalbandian seeing that the anti-astrology laws had always been on the books but were laying dormant and nobody was really enforcing them.
Suddenly, in the 1980s, there started being a lot of litigation and a lot of astrologers were getting arrested for just doing astrology. There were raids on their businesses and also some raids on metaphysical book shops and stuff in the 1980s, and that’s one of the things that eventually led to the formation of Kepler College. They felt like they needed to have an accreditation board for astrologers in order to avoid the government coming in and creating one on its own, to do that in-house.
So this is a national issue, or it was something that became up as much more of an issue in the 1980s. But then it also died down at that point as well?
LS: AFAN really worked on a lot of these things as they arose in the 1980s; it was the concentration of issues coming up for astrologers running afoul of anti-fortune-telling laws. And luckily, there were a couple of important cases decided in the early-to-mid-80s; there was the California one I mentioned. And then there was also one in 1983 I found when looking through things more recently that went to the appeals court in Oregon.
Again, it’s not binding for the whole country, but when you get some of these higher courts saying decisively, no, it’s a freedom of expression, constitutional issue and these anti-fortune-telling laws are unconstitutional. That really helps immensely in clearing up any of the ones that came up after that, because you can immediately present this and be like, “Look, this is unconstitutional; look, these courts have said that,” and you get most of them dropped.
CB: So there have still been cases as recently 2002. I think you talked to somebody or interviewed someone recently about that, right?
LS: Yeah, I talked to astrologer Toni Thomas in Georgia who said that I could mention her name in relation to this. Yeah, it’s surprising that it happened as recently as 2002, but she was in Duluth, Georgia–which is a suburb city of Atlanta–and she had a newspaper article which was pretty favorably written about her being an astrologer. And soon after that she received a letter saying that she was running afoul of the anti-fortune-telling laws and that she needed to immediately stop operating her business which was out of her own home via phone.
CB: Okay. And what happened then?
LS: Yeah, that’s why I talked to her recently to find out the resolution. Basically, AFAN had a volunteer lawyer send a letter explaining that this wasn’t okay and that astrologers weren’t fraudulent fortune-tellers and so forth, explaining some of the cases that had happened before this that decided that anti-fortune-telling laws were unconstitutional.
We didn’t have a follow-up document because they just dropped it after that. She tried to call to follow up three or four times and they just basically didn’t do anything with it anymore after they received that letter.
CB: So it was a letter from a lawyer on behalf of AFAN?
LS: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Okay. And that was one of the most recent cases; that was back in 2002?
LS: So thankfully, since the ‘80s and early ‘90s, we have had a much better time of it, a much better situation for astrologers legally than it was before.
CB: Sure. And it seems to be resting on essentially free speech laws at this point.
LS: Mm-hmm. Free speech constitutional issues, they’re just trumping at this point almost across the board against the main argument that fortune-telling is inherently fraudulent; that’s usually the flipside defense.
CB: Okay. And in terms of ordinances, in terms of areas where some people are still getting into trouble–not necessarily astrologers, but other people that are doing “fortune-telling”–there have been some notable cases recently in terms of people going to jail for doing sketchy stuff, right?
LS: Oh, yeah. There was an article in The New York Times actually last week or so about some prominent fortune-tellers from New York that went to prison for basically defrauding people out of lots of money; sort of the kind of people or the kind of activities that these laws were actually designed for.
CB: And this was actually defrauding.
CB: So these were criminals that were using “fortune-telling” or stuff as a cover in order to basically get people to give them large sums of money. Like 10-grand or 20-grand or something like that?
LS: Yeah, exactly. Tens of thousands of dollars, saying you have a curse on you that I can lift if you give me this amount of money. Sometimes they’ve said, “I’ll give it back to you,” and then they don’t. It’s definitely just outright fraud.
CB: So there are some specific cases like that that have come up over the past decade where those types of people really are being hit hard, or authorities are definitely focusing on them in terms of busting them and getting rid of people like that.
LS: Well, yeah. I mean, that’s why they want those laws in place. I would argue that you can get them under other laws, fraud laws themselves. But in any case, yes, there have been some of those.
CB: And that’s kind of an issue, from the perspective of astrologers, when we think about things like that. One of the problems here is that if you’re outside of the astrological community–and especially if you’re a skeptic or something–skeptics commonly make the assumption–and it’s generally just an assumption–that all astrologers are just ripping people off and it’s all just about bilking people out of money or something like that.
And one of the things that astrologers realize from inside the community is that you get inside the community and you realize that that’s not what it’s about at all–and at least when it comes to astrology–this is something that they believe in as a legitimate phenomenon and are passionate about. And some people actually pursue it as a profession so that they can do it full-time or do it all the time and try to work with people and help people in terms of using what they learn and sharing it with other people.
But one of the things that astrologers have to realize when it comes to some of these laws is that there are sometimes sketchy people out there like that that will use fortune-telling or different types of divination as a cover in order to get money from people. And I guess that’s true in all professional fields where there’s always going to be a bad element or certain bad actors that are operating in any given field. But one of the concerns is hopefully when stuff like that happens–where somebody is deliberately just going out of their way to use something like astrology or fortune-telling as a cover in order to steal from people or in order to rip people off–it is handled by the authorities.
But it puts this ambiguous, gray line in between what is the distinction between a legitimate, practicing, professional astrologer that’s doing astrology versus somebody that’s not legitimate and can you distinguish between the two: How do you distinguish between the two, or how can you tell one from the other? How can somebody who is outside of the astrological community and doesn’t believe in astrology as a legitimate phenomenon tell one from the other?
LS: Right. And one thing that some people have done in trying to distinguish those has been to change ordinances or put addendums on ordinances to say that fortune-telling is only those who claim to alter someone’s fortune rather than just simply predict the future, and that targets that “I will lift the curse from you” kind of thing.
CB: Sure. Although that’s kind of interesting in and of itself in that it may–at some point I could anticipate–run into problems in terms of the rise of people that are doing some forms of Western traditional magic or other forms of traditional astrology that do things like talismans and amulets.
LS: Yeah, that was one of the things that I was immediately thinking of when I was reading some of these alterations. Because of course they were done with good intentions in mind, but probably at the time, not a lot of astrologers were doing anything like that.
So you get either the Western talismanic magic kind of thing. You also get the rise in interest in Indian astrology; so you can do gemstones or even mantras or remediation of some sort or another. And when I was reading these altered laws, I thought there is the potential there. Luckily, we haven’t heard of anyone getting in trouble for that but there is the potential there for that to fall under that category claiming to alter someone’s fortune.
CB: Right. Definitely. So it’ll be interesting to see if that does come up at some point. I mean, hopefully it doesn’t, but it’s definitely something that astrologers should be aware of. And especially just anybody practicing astrology should be aware of the legality of what they’re doing and potential areas of problems that they could run into. I mean, in the long term, it’ll be interesting just to see.
I mentioned this already on the show a few times, but I’m always still nervous about the place that astrology has in society at the current point in time being kind of precarious and the potential for anti-astrology type laws to come back again and become problematic for astrologers because astrology is not recognized as a legitimate practice, especially when it comes to the litmus test in modern society for determining what is a legitimate phenomenon versus what is not, which is scientific testing.
So far, at this point, astrologers have very little to go off of that’s favorable for astrology, and as long as it stays that way, I think that still puts us in an awkward position in terms of the legality of practicing astrology. Right now, it’s just resting on free speech laws. You feel pretty confident in it staying that way for awhile, right?
LS: Yeah. The nature of the law can change of course with social currents. But luckily, we’ve had a few solid decades now of constitutional issues trumping and freedom of speech in particular. And I think we’re lucky that that is the case in the U.S., that that’s such an enshrined principle once they started to decide based on that. I don’t know. I feel pretty optimistic actually that’ll stay that way.
CB: So after doing all of this research into the history and legality of astrology over the past century, you came out of it with a greater feeling of optimism rather than the opposite?
LS: Yeah. Not because everyone socially will understand what astrology is or respect it, but because we have such good constitutional principles that protect speech regardless; many of the cases said something just like that. Even if you disagree or think it’s rubbish or whatever, we have such strong principles of freedom of expression that I think we’re pretty good at this point, and that principle continues on regardless of everyone agreeing with astrology or not.
CB: All right. Well, I think that’s a good place to transition into our final topic which is something that’s come up recently. I’ve been noticing again different people interfacing with skeptics and interfacing with the public, and this is a recurring, annoying thing for me. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that oftentimes the loudest people–mid-level astrologers–for some reason try to make a name for themselves by picking fights with skeptics. I think that this is not only a bad idea, but I think it’s actually harmful for the astrological community, and I think it’s a bad strategy for astrologers in general; there’s a few issues with it.
Recently, this came up because an astrologer was trying to attack Neil deGrasse Tyson who’s the host of the new Cosmos series, who’s a very popular advocate of science; a prominent science advocate. A year or so ago, it was another astrologer that was trying to attack Richard Dawkins, and there’s been other things like that where periodically you’ll see some astrologer–especially somebody that has a platform where they have a readership–try to go after one of these prominent skeptics or one of these prominent science advocates especially if they say something against astrology.
And I really think that there are some drawbacks and some problems with this approach; one of the primary things for me is that it often comes off as very self-serving. What’s happening and the way that I’m seeing it is that oftentimes it’s astrologers that have a platform but they’re trying to draw in a bigger audience. And so, one of the things that they’re doing is they’re targeting prominent, public figures who are also skeptics and trying to engage them in a debate over the validity of astrology and trying to assert the validity of astrology to these skeptics contrary to the skeptics’ negative statements against astrology.
But they also often have this overblown sense of “I’m going to tell this skeptic what’s true, and I’m going to get in his face and win the argument,” or something like that. So there’s this really non-realistic perspective on what the reality of the situation is going to be. They think they’re going to attack this public figure or criticize this public figure and that somehow that’s going to draw in more traffic for them and they’re going to draw in more viewers, and that it’s somehow going to be a ‘win’ for astrology, when in fact, the reality of the situation is that’s probably not the case.
What it looks like instead is just you have some random astrologer who’s attacking a beloved public figure that lots of people like with not very good or not very consistent arguments about science and about the nature of science and about the nature of the universe essentially. They’re often doing it in such an aggressive manner that it comes off really negatively.
They come off looking defensive and aggressive and basically just attacking somebody that everybody loves. The end result is just going to be lots of new people that didn’t know much about astrology now thinking that astrologers are aggressive, defensive, and they believe in something crazy, and they’re attacking somebody who they respect, so they’ll have even less respect for astrologers.
I don’t know. This is just a general topic that came up again for me recently, but it comes up periodically. So I wanted to talk about it just because it’s something that I like to complain about, but also because–I don’t know–I’d like to see the community adopt a different attitude when it comes to this.
Most astrologers, when this happens, either they just don’t say anything–especially people that don’t know a lot about astrology and science or are not very focused on that as a topic–or sometimes will actually be supportive, and they’ll say, “Yeah, go get ‘em. Go attack Neil deGrasse Tyson, or go attack Richard Dawkins and tell them astrology is true,” and blah, blah, blah. They’ll be cheerleading on this thing that’s actually negative or harmful for the astrological community.
And so, one of the reasons why I wanted to bring it up is because I’d like there to be more of a dialogue and more of a discussion about whether that’s how we should be doing this; whether we should be aggressively going after skeptics in the public sphere like that and if that’s actually going to serve astrology well, or if that’s actually going to be harmful for the broader community.
And if it is harmful for the broader community–if the end result of that discussion is this is harmful–should we be encouraging individual astrologers to engage in that type of practice to keep doing it, or should people actually step up and say, “Hey, that’s not all right?” “You’re speaking for all of us when you try and interact with a public figure like that who’s talking about astrology to the general public. You’re speaking on behalf of all astrologers.”
And if you’re making a complete ass of yourself then I think other astrologers should just step up and say, “Hey, maybe you should lay off on that. Maybe you shouldn’t be approaching this public figure with that type of negative approach; that may not be as helpful or as constructive as you think it’s supposed to be.”
I don’t know. This comes up from time to time, and I think I complain to you about it a lot, Leisa. So what are your thoughts about it?
LS: Yeah, I think it definitely upsets you more than it does me, but I, for the most part, agree with a lot of your concerns. I mean, on the one hand, I can kind of understand people getting frustrated–astrologers or people in the astrological community, or even people who just enjoy astrology.
I can understand people getting frustrated and not wanting scientists to get away with using their positions in the world in order to dismiss whole fields they don’t know anything about, so I get the motivation behind it. I know we’re going to stand up for ourselves and not just take this ridicule or take these false statements about what we do, so I do understand that. But it is super important on the other hand to think about strategy versus validity, so it may be a valid complaint.
Hey, they’re saying untrue things, and I know that astrology works and so forth, but it is still important to think about the strategic maneuvers around a dialogue; that we’re not really in a super advantageous position currently in society.
CB: Right. Because even if you’re right and astrology is valid–and therefore, you’re on the ‘right’ side of the argument–that doesn’t mean you’re not still going to look like an asshole if you come out too aggressively, or if you come out making not very consistent arguments, or if you’re just attacking a public figure.
It doesn’t matter if you’re right, or if astrology is a valid phenomenon, if you approach it in the wrong way or inappropriately then, a) you’re not going to win the argument, and b) you’re not necessarily going to help astrology or astrologers, but in fact, you may actually do the opposite and make things worse.
LS: Yeah. And I do think that your concern is well-founded in terms of this affecting the whole community, even if individual astrologers just decided to go and say whatever, so I do understand that because it does affect everyone if it becomes a public thing.
One thing that I know that you’ve said a lot about before is the great importance of people knowing what has been actually done in past scientific studies. Even if you don’t think they were well-designed studies, there is a history there of specific tests. There’s sort of a literature review that someone should probably become very well-versed in before they engage in these arguments.
CB: Right. Don’t try and argue with a skeptic–but just anybody–especially about the scientific validity of astrology or the standing of astrology when it come to contemporary science without having some background in that subject first, in terms of knowing what studies have been done and which studies came out well versus which studies came out not-so-well.
LS: Right. And thinking about that again off the top of my head, I don’t know if this is currently where we’re at right now or if there’s enough interest in the community, but I was imagining hypothetical workshops–pre-conference workshops at conferences–to educate people more on what has been done within the interface of science and astrology–even if we don’t think it’s been well-done so far–so that more people are educated on that. I mean, I wonder if that would be something that more people would be interested in right now or not.
CB: Yeah, I think that would be amazing. I don’t know how that would work in terms of the current conference models. One of the problems that you run into when you get into the astrology and science debate is that the people that tend to focus on that a lot, that I’ve seen, sometimes tend to be people who I don’t feel have realistic perspectives on the status of astrology and science.
One of the things that annoys me that I’ve brought up before is Astrology News Service, for example. It’s a website that all of the astrological organizations are supporting right now, and it’s just constantly pumping out articles that are overly-positive or overly-optimistic about the status of astrology and mainstream scientific thought; that astrology is making great progress with science, or astrology being validated with science or something like that, which really does not seem to be the case.
The status of astrology in terms of scientific validity and being validated by scientific studies is not looking very good right now. A lot of the studies have gone extremely poorly, and part of that is because many of the studies have been designed extremely poorly for various reasons; but nonetheless, they’ve still gone poorly even if they’ve been not designed very well.
I feel like we run into these issues sometimes when talking about astrologers who are really interested in the scientific validity of astrology. They know personally that astrology is a valid phenomenon, and they have a hard time accepting that it does not have a very good position in terms of science right now and that the studies have not validated it. And so, there tends to be a lot of arguments and a lot of quibbling over whether the studies were valid and whether astrology actually has been demonstrated scientifically at this point, or whether it is on the verge of doing so and things like that.
So even in terms of the current consensus within the astrological community about the position of astrology relative to science, I’m not sure that you’ll find a lot of consensus, so it would be hard at a mainstream conference to have an honest discussion about that. But maybe what we’re doing here, what we’re formulating here is our long-term goal for having a conference or organizing a conference and what sort of things we would want to have there. One of those things would be educating astrologers about basic things that they need to know about like astrology and science and where astrology sits relative to that at this point in time.
LS: Yeah, I can definitely see that issue coming up if you just kept it constrained to “This is what’s happened so far. These are the parameters of the exact studies that have happened so far. Whatever you feel about that, this is what you should know.”
CB: Right. Definitely. So yeah, in terms of that people should have a full background on that. But even if you do have a background, I’ve seen people that do have a background–or do think that they have some background–still challenging skeptics or challenging public figures about the validity of astrology. And I think that’s not a good approach to take because there’s a sort of arrogance that’s associated with it.
And one of my points that I made recently to one of the people that was doing this or engaging in it is that arrogance about knowing that you know the truth, or arrogance about interacting with people that you disagree with doesn’t serve astrologers any better than it serve skeptics or scientists who are anti-astrology. So I think it’s just much better as a general rule to approach people outside of the astrological community especially with a certain amount of humbleness and not be aggressive or arrogant towards them, even if they’re saying things that you disagree with or that you want to take issue with.
And then separately, question whether individual astrologers should be trying to go after or trying to getting into arguments with major skeptics and prominent science advocates and whether that’s productive for the astrological community–and then more broadly, on a community level–whether we should be supporting individual astrologers who are doing that and really questioning whether the individual astrologers doing that are doing that on behalf of the community or whether they’re doing that for personal gain.
Because oftentimes it seems to me more like there’s ego-driven issues behind that, but also there’s personal issues in terms of the individual astrologer trying to take a shot at a public figure in hope that the public figure responds to them, and they suddenly get seen by hundreds of thousands of people, or millions of people or what have you because they got into an argument with a prominent person.
And that’s really self-serving and short-sighted to me, and that’s one of the other reasons why I don’t think that the community in general should be supporting individual astrologers when they attempt to do that. Often, I feel like it’s coming more from that place than it is coming from a genuine place of “Let’s do something that will help all astrologers or move astrology and the astrological community forward in a constructive manner.” So yeah, greater awareness in terms of the community and greater discussions about what’s appropriate or not appropriate in terms of interacting with the public is all I’m trying to encourage here.
All right. Well, I think that’s it for that topic, so that brings us towards the end of this show. It was a little bit of a longer show but we covered a lot of ground. So in terms of things that are coming up or other news for the future, I just finished the second month of doing Patreon-supported shows and episodes, with one episode a week. This episode’s running a bit behind because I needed to have a little bit of downtime and catch up and try to plan out the next month. Also, I had some trouble scheduling interviews for this week, but I should be on track to do the full, four episodes for the month of September.
Additionally, I’ve been experimenting with some different software, and I wanted to start adding some additional benefits and giving some additional benefits to people that are subscribing to support the show. And one of the things that I’m looking into doing is a monthly webinar for podcast subscribers at the higher tiers–like the $5 and $10 tiers potentially–to basically have an open forum.
It’s a webinar software, kind of like GoToMeeting, where people all get an email with an access code when they sign up for it. And then you can go and talk in a chatroom-type forum where I’ll be having a discussion on my webcam, talking about some of the topics that were covered over the course of the past month in the podcast.
And instead of it just being a discussion where I’m talking, or me and my guests are talking, it can be opened up to more of a group discussion about different topics. And individual subscribers can ask questions or make points or what have you and all of this would be recorded. It would happen live, so everybody gets to see it and gets to take part in it using their microphone and webcam. But also, it would be recorded and then archives, so that people that subscribed could get access to the archives of those recorded videos.
So I’m thinking of doing this at the end of each month or towards the end of each month for subscribers; just one of these a month in order to recap that month of the podcast and in order to have an open forum for podcast subscribers. But also, I’m thinking about doing a preview of this some time in the next week or two in order to give people a sense of what it would actually be like if you had access to it.
So if anybody is interested in signing up for that first preview webinar, I think I’m going to have it open for subscribers or open for free potentially, but I think there’s going to be a limit of possibly 25 people. So if you’re interested in taking part in the first preview webinar chat session then please send me an email through the email address listed on my website, on the contact page, at ChrisBrennanAstrologer.com, and let me know that you’d be interested in taking part in that webinar whenever it takes place, or at least getting the recording of the webinar–even if you’re not able to attend it live–and I will add you to the list.
So that’s my news for now. You, Leisa, are doing consultations and offering consultations and had a pretty busy summer. And you are also starting to offer new types of consultations, right?
LS: Yeah. So normally, I do natal consultations–a lot of timing focus similar to Chris with zodiacal releasing and so forth, as well as some modern psychological interpretation, but more on the timing side–and I’ve kind of had a heavy specialization for a little bit now on Saturn returns just because I find them so fascinating biographically and so vital in everyone’s lives in terms of their turning points.
But yes, I’ve just started to offer electional–not consultations; really it’d be more of a written thing. I’ve been doing electional on a case-by-case basis, just when people know that I can do it, but I’m just starting to formally offer it now.
CB: Okay. Awesome. So they can check out your website and what you’re offering at LeisaSchaim.com?
CB: All right. And then also, just wanted to thank people. A lot of people–since I announced it in my last episode–have purchased my new lecture on timing the activation of the rulers of the houses, and I really appreciate that. If you haven’t checked out the lecture yet, it’s still available on my website. I think there’s a link to it on the sidebar of theastrologypodcast.com.
And it’s just a new lecture that I put together earlier this year, and I’m very excited about it because it shows you through dozens of example charts how to interpret when the ruler of one house is in another house–like the ruler of the 10th in the 9th, or the ruler of the 11th in the 7th or what have you–and not just how to interpret that, but also to determine when that placement will become awakened or activated in a person’s life by using different approaches to annual profections, which is a yearly time-lord technique. So it’s actually a pretty good deal that you get two different techniques and two different topics in the same lecture; so you can check that out on my website.
All right. Well, I think that brings us to the end of the show. So if you enjoyed the show, and you’re listening to it through iTunes, please be sure to give it a good rating on iTunes; we really appreciate that. If you want to support the show then you can sign up via our page on Patreon, which you can find out more about on the subscribe page on theastrologypodcast.com.
All right. Well, thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.