The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 56, titled:
With Chris Brennan
Episode originally released on December 6, 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: email@example.com
Transcribed by Gulsen Altay and Andrea Johnson
Transcription released October 29, 2019
Copyright © 2019 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode is a lecture that was originally recorded on Saturday, November 14, 2015, just after 3:00 PM, in Denver, Colorado, although I’m releasing it for the podcast in early December of 2015 as Episode 56.
This episode features a lecture titled Tips for Becoming a Better Astrologer. But since this is the first episode of December, I have a couple of announcements before we get onto our main topic. First, I’ve just about finished a project I started about two years ago to revise and expand my online course on Hellenistic astrology. Now that I’ve just about finished recording the final new lecture on ancient timing techniques, I’m going to be raising the price of the course at the end of the month.
People who sign up before the price increase will be grandfathered into the course and will get access to all of the new lectures, but just for a lower price than what I’ll be charging for it after this month. The price increase will go into effect on January 1st. So if you’ve been thinking about signing up for the course for a while, you might want to do so in the next few weeks if you’d like to save some money. You can find out more information about the course on my website at chrisbrennanastrologer.com.
Second, I wanted to say thank you to everyone that has supported the show over the past few months by signing up to become a Patron through Patreon. Thanks to you guys, I have been able to consistently produce four episodes a month, each month since July, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.
If you listen to the show regularly and you’d like to help support it then please consider signing up to donate a dollar or more each episode through Patreon, and in return you’ll get access to some great subscriber benefits like access to our private discussion forum, early access to new episodes and more. For more information on how to subscribe to the podcast, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe.
All right, so let’s get on to introducing our main topic for this episode. This was a lecture that I presented at a meeting of the local astrology group that I organize in Denver, on November 14, 2015. The talk was originally titled Tips for Learning Astrology and Becoming a Better Astrologer. The talk was motivated in part by the fact that we needed to host a meeting of our local astrology group in about a week, and I wanted to come up with a topic that would be applicable to both beginner and advanced students of astrology.
The talk was also partially motivated by some issues that I’ve had with some of the standards in the astrological community for a while now and my desire to raise the bar a bit. I tried to address some specific issues and areas where I feel like the astrological community sometimes comes up short, or at least where there’s room for improvement, as well as just some general tips for what astrologers can do to improve their studies and practice.
Only the first bit of the talk is really geared towards completely new students of astrology, while the majority of the rest of it is more applicable to those who are already a bit more advanced in their studies. That’s why at this point I’m just giving the talk the title Tips for Becoming a Better Astrologer.
I should warn you ahead of time that the audio quality on this lecture is not very good because I was trying to record it in front of a live audience at what was kind of a loud venue with a lot of noise going on in the background. I was also using a new recorder that I hadn’t used before.
I’d like to thank Austin’s brother, Steven Coppock, for his help with editing the audio and trying to salvage what was a pretty terrible recording. I thought about just rerecording the lecture, but I felt like I wouldn’t be able to recreate everything from the original lecture in a way that was quite as good as when I first presented it. Plus, once Steven edited the talk, I felt like he was able to get it into a state that would suffice for general listening purposes, but just keep that in mind as you listen.
With those general introductory remarks out of the way, let’s get started with the recording of the lecture.
All right, so let’s get started with our talk for today, which the title of today’s talk is Tips for Learning Astrology and Becoming a Better Astrologer. I wanted to give a talk inspired a little bit by some talks that I had seen recently and some things that I’ve just been thinking about over the past few years about ways that astrologers could improve what they’re currently doing and areas where–as a community, as well as as individuals–we can oftentimes have room for improvement, where we can raise the bar a little bit from where it’s currently at in the astrological community, and what are some ways that we can go about doing that.
So I’ve incorporated a lot of those into a series of tips that are useful for people who are new to astrology and not very familiar with the subject, in terms of starting points for what would be good to do if you’re just getting into the field. Also, I’ve tried to combine those with some tips, and some guidelines, and advice that would be useful even for established astrologers to think about in order to improve their own practice, improve what they already do. So that’s what I’m going to be presenting here today.
All right, so here’s my first tip, and this is a tip that I think is applicable to everybody. Established astrologers are going to already have done this to some extent but there’s actually ways that you could probably do it better. The first tip is to build a database of charts. When you’re building a database of charts–and I’m talking about birth charts, and specifically, birth times, since most of the techniques of Western astrology are predicated on knowing the exact moment that a person was born–what you want to do is build up a database of time-to-charts.
Broadly speaking, there are two groups that you want to focus on. One of them is people you know, or people that you’ve had some contact with personally, that you have some ability to interact with personally and to ask them questions about their life. So this includes people like family members or friends, co-workers, just generally people that are in your life and in your social circle where you have the ability to directly either ask them or directly ascertain from let’s say their birth certificate what time they were born.
The other group of course is celebrities and public figures which traditionally for the past 2,000, even 3,000 years has been a major source of research for astrologers. Astrologers for 2,000 years now have always looked at celebrity charts because sometimes celebrity charts are so paradigmatic in terms of really playing out the placements in their charts in a very literal and a very direct and prominent manner. So celebrities and public figures are a good source for doing research into astrology.
And one of the things that you should do is you should try to focus on celebrities that you can get an exact birth time for, and there’s two ways to do this. One way is through Astro-Databank which is available for free online at www.astro.com. They basically have a wiki-like Wikipedia that contains pages that tell you if we have a birth time for a certain celebrity, and then it’ll tell you what the source is. They also have a rating system called the Rodden Rating System that will tell you how reliable this source for the birth time is.
For example, their top-tier is AA data, which is if the birth data is from a birth certificate or some other birth record. B data, which is another tier down, is from a biography. Then it goes all the way down to D data or DD data, which is when you have conflicting birth times. So sometimes you’ll have two or three different sources for a single person all saying different things, in which case you don’t really have a reliable birth time at that point.
One of the things that all astrologers should do is everybody should know the Rodden Rating System; everybody should know the five or six different tiers for birth data. Generally speaking, if you ever write an article about astrology, or if you ever present a lecture where you use a birth chart, it’s good practice to cite exactly what the source of the birth time was and how reliable it is.
So that’s one little piece of information that you can do either as a new astrologer or a starting astrologer to improve what we’re currently doing in the astrological community just by citing our sources and making sure that we’re using verified birth times for charts. One of the worst things or the most embarrassing things that can happen sometimes is if you’re using a chart that demonstrates a technique and then it turns out that the birth time that you’re using is wrong, or the birth chart that you’re using is completely wrong because then it undercuts and invalidates the point that you were trying to make.
This is why building up a good database is kind of a community effort, and one of the things that you can also do is contribute to this by collecting birth times and actually submitting them to Astro-Databank yourself. So one of the things that astrologers do will sometimes be to ask celebrities or prominent figures what their birth time is. For example, if you went to a political rally for your favorite politician and you got a chance to talk to him or her, you might ask them what their birth time is and they might tell you. If that happens in a public setting then one of the things that you can do to contribute to the broader community effort and community research is to submit that birth time to Astro-Databank. By doing so, you’re actually helping everybody in the research efforts surrounding astrology.
So that’s part of the broader community effort, but in terms of the personal effort, one thing that I would recommend that everybody should do is pick a famous celebrity or a famous public figure and find somebody who you know that we have an accurate birth time for–where it’s listed on astro.com, or where you can otherwise get their birth certificate–and then read a biography of that person, or read two or three biographies of that person. Make that person, the celebrity, or the public figure that you know more about than anybody else and use that as your main chart example.
This is something that both new astrologers can do and established astrologers can do. Instead of just every once in a while looking at a celebrity chart and glancing at it and seeing if it confirms what your public perception of that person is–through a movie, or through let’s say a television commercial that you saw that person in once–instead of just sticking with the very shallow level of understanding that most of us have of celebrities and public figures, try to develop a very deep understanding of the history and the chronology and the personality of this person. See how that works out in terms of their birth chart and in terms of every technique that you can possibly throw at that chart. By focusing on one chart very deeply, you’ll actually develop a very deep and intimate understanding of not just that person’s life but also the techniques that you’re working with.
For example, I know somebody who picked Albert Einstein. They made Albert Einstein their guy because we have a birth time for Einstein, and he’s also one of the most influential public figures of the 20th century. Tons of biographies have been written about him and we know a good deal about his life, so for that reason, he makes a good figure to study. Other figures that you could study, ideally, you want somebody who is either towards the end of their lives so that they’ve done most of the stuff that they’re going to do, or their life is already over so that you know that there’s nothing more to add to that. Even some living figures might still be useful, but just find somebody who has a very well-documented life and make that your personal study.
Does anybody have a figure that they’ve already done this way, or somebody that’s a favorite that they’ve researched? What’s yours?
AUDIENCE: Errol Flynn.
CB: Okay. Who was that?
AUDIENCE: Errol Flynn.
CB: What did they do? I’m not familiar with the name.
AUDIENCE: That’s old school.
CB: Am I showing my age?
AUDIENCE: Well, he was one of the first superstar Hollywood actors in the ‘30s. He died at the age of 59.
CB: Okay, perfect. Yeah, that’s a great example then. Yeah, there’s tons of public figures over the past few years. I went out of my way to build up my own database of time charts and to write notes, not just get the birth times. Also, note in your own personal files what the source of the birth time is, where you got it from, and how strong it is because sometimes that information is relevant and will become relevant in terms of knowing how strong it is.
But there’s other public figures. Arnold Schwarzenegger is one who there’s been many biographies written about. We have birth times for Charlie Chaplin. Who was the younger girl? There was a young Hollywood actress in the 1920s and ‘30s that we have birth times for. We have birth times for a lot of famous public figures, so it’s just a matter of finding one that really appeals to you, seeing if they have a birth time and then using it. All right, so that’s my first tip.
My second tip–and this is something that many astrologers have already done, although there’s also a surprising amount that haven’t–is that every astrologer should know how to read an ephemeris, but they also should have a command over the ephemeris to the extent that they know the ins and outs of it. They know what the current transits are, they know some of the transits over the past few decades, especially in terms of the outer planets, and they know what some of the major outer planet transits are in the coming decades.
That’s really useful information because in any astrological consultation or any time you’re looking at a chart, if somebody is saying, “I had such-and-such event happen to me in the mid-1960s, it really upended my life”, some astrologers that know their outer planet transits will immediately think about the Uranus-Pluto conjunction that took place in Virgo in the mid-1960s, and they might know immediately how that connects to the person’s birth chart.
So one of the things that I recommend that everybody should do is get a copy of the ephemeris. Get a printed copy of the ephemeris and just start reading it as if you would read a book, exploring the transits and exploring the close aspects between the outer planets that take place in different decades. In doing so, you’re going to put yourself in a really good position to be able to not just look at a client’s chart, but even to look at your own chart and to know immediately what transits you’re having at different parts of your life.
With clients this also becomes useful in terms of if a person starts talking about a synodic cycle. Let’s say they are going through a break up right now in their life and they say, “The last time that something like this happened to me was eight years ago.” You would know, if you studied the ephemeris really closely, that every eight years the planet Venus will go retrograde in approximately the same spot of zodiac.
So immediately, just knowing that information you’re able to connect that specific transit with this person’s biography and know why they were experiencing that event at that specific moment in time. Whereas if you don’t have the ephemeris memorized to some extent, you may not be sure what transit immediately was happening at that time in their life until you actually look at the chart. So getting a copy of the ephemeris and becoming as familiar with the ephemeris as you are with your own birth chart is a really good practice.
AUDIENCE: There is no substitute for a paper ephemeris because you can see years and years very quickly…
AUDIENCE: …but you have these programs. I don’t know about Android. I know for iPhone there’s one called iEphemeris that’s awesome. I use it all the time for spot-checking somebody’s birthday or something like that. You can bury it in your pocket; I love it.
CB: So it’s like an app for the Mac.
AUDIENCE: Well, it’s an app for iPhone.
CB: iPhones, okay.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, and probably they have the same one for Android, I don’t know. But it’s called iEphemeris for people with iPhones. It’s awesome. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll show it to you after this.
CB: Okay, yeah, that will be great. So yeah, there’s apps like that. On www.astro.com, there’s a free ephemeris for every year, in every century. I think it goes on for 3,000 years or 5,000 years or more. You can download that for free as a PDF. I’d really recommend getting a print copy of the ephemeris. The one that everybody uses is The American Ephemeris which either does 50-year or sometimes 100-year increments. There’s actually a really great one that they just released recently which is a Trans-Century Ephemeris. So it gives the last 50 years of the 20th century and the first 50 years of the 21st century.
Different people, different book lovers have different feelings towards this, but I’d even recommend maybe highlighting certain transits. When you’re seeing very important outer planet transits, go through and use a highlighter to mark up your ephemeris and really personalize it, so that whatever transits are important to you or that you think are important outer planet transits, you can easily open up that ephemeris and see when they’re going exact and what planets are involved and so on and so forth.
All right, so master the ephemeris. This is just s picture of the ephemeris for November, just in case there’s anybody that’s new and not familiar with it. It’s just literally a book of planetary positions and what degree of the zodiac each planet is in for any day of the year. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: What do they use in order to gather this information? Do they have telescopes? Do they look up at the sky and write this stuff down?
CB: Yeah, they’re based on astronomical observations of the planets down to a T. But because the planetary motions are so fixed and so periodic, they know that if you look in the sky now and you figure out the speed or the velocity of each of the planets and what direction it’s travelling, you can project that out for a thousand years into the future very accurately. So with the ephemeris, they basically do that. At the time of whenever they publish it, they project out where all the planets will be on any given date in time and then they print it out in the ephemeris itself.
And that’s essentially all astrological programs are, which is going to be the next slide. Astrological programs basically draw on the ephemeris. They have the ephemeris programmed into them. Astrological programs, contrary to what you might think, they’re not actually calculating the live positions of the planets by observation; it’s actually calculation based on drawing it from the ephemeris which throws some people off or is not clear at first.
Okay, does anyone have any questions about the ephemeris?
AUDIENCE: Are you also going to mention that reference book by Neil Michelsen about planetary phenomena?
CB: Yeah, that’s a really good one.
AUDIENCE: [?] for that a lot more than American Ephemeris.
CB: Yeah, Neil Michelsen, who published The American Ephemeris, also published another one called–it’s not Rules for Planetary Phenomena.
AUDIENCE: It’s Tables of Planetary Phenomena.
CB: Yeah, Tables of Planetary Phenomena. It has a bunch of specialized ephemerises. For example, it has one that shows all of the eclipses that will take place in the 20th and 21st century all on the same page, which is really useful for looking at all of the eclipses in your entire lifetime at a glance. It shows all of the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions that will take place over a thousand-year timespan all on the same page.
It has a bunch of useful ones where you can take some of the basic information from the ephemeris and specify or contract it down into just a few specific combinations. So yeah, that’s a really great suggestion. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: Is this Greenwich [?]?
CB: There’s not, unfortunately. This is Universal Time, so that’s Greenwich Time. You basically have to add whatever it is, seven hours or something, or subtract seven hours when you’re looking at these placements because it’s starting it out at midnight. There is one that starts at noon. So there’s a noon ephemeris so that you only have to adjust it by three hours.
Yeah, unfortunately they’re all going to be based on Universal Time. But for most planets, especially outer planets, that’s not going to make a huge deal because they move so slowly. It’s only really the inner planets–like the Moon or sometimes Mercury, if it’s moving really fast–that it really matters or it‘s going to make a huge difference, and for that you should just switch to a program at that point. All right, so that’s the ephemeris and that’s actually the next step.
So you’ve mastered the ephemeris. That’s kind of like the manual version of astrology, looking at ephemeris and knowing how it works. That’s kind of like knowing how your car works, which some people do other people don’t. A lot of people skip this point. I recommend first learning the ephemeris because that’s getting down and dirty and learning what the planetary cycles actually look like. The next step should be buying a software program. A lot of people start with and use astro.com. You can go to www.astro.com to calculate charts for free.
That’s a great starting point, that’s a great point to be at initially, but one of my points here that I want to recommend is that eventually every astrologer, every astrology enthusiast should invest in a full astrology software program. The reasons for that are numerous. One, it allows you to build up a large database of charts. In any online program, you’re going to hit a limit at some point about how many charts you can store. Whereas for a full software program, you can build up a database of thousands or theoretically even millions of charts. Some data collectors have actually done that and built up databases with hundreds of thousands of entries.
So you can build up a huge database of charts, you can backup your charts–which you cannot do with any online programs like astro.com–which is very important. Let’s say astro.com doesn’t stick around forever, you don’t want to lose all of your chart data. Yeah, I don’t want to scare anybody. I just saw Joy get the cold sweats when I said that.
You don’t want to be relying on another company. To some extent, obviously you’re doing that even if you invest in software program. You put all your charts in there, you’re relying on them to keep it updated, but at least you can back up the charts locally on your own computer, or in your own cloud, or put it on a disk drive, back it up, or what have you.
Additionally, it allows you to customize your charts and make your own chart layouts which you cannot do as much on any other online software program. You can also do other advanced things that are useful for research such as searching through specific placements. This is something that most software programs can do, but it’s something that certain programs like Solar Fire really specialize in, which is being able to pull up all the charts you have ever put into database, never save, and then do a search and say, “Show me all charts with Mercury in Scorpio and Uranus square the Moon.” It’ll search through all of your charts and immediately spit out a list of all the charts that have that exact placement. That’s incredibly useful if you’re starting to do really advanced research in astrology and you really want to get to the bottom of some specific placements.
For example, last year when I was putting together a lecture series on the rulers of the houses, which I presented part of earlier this year, having that database of charts made it really easy to go, “Show me every chart where the ruler of the 10th house is in the 7th house,” and then suddenly 20 or 30 charts were spit out from the program that showed me all the different people, either that I knew in my personal life or that I knew as celebrities or public figures that had that exact placement. Immediately, you can start to see a bunch of different correlations of how that specific placement manifested in many different but oftentimes very similar ways in different people’s lives. So I think you can all understand pretty quickly how that would be a really useful feature to have for doing research, and that’s something that most programs have as a feature.
Finally, there’s more options in the paid programs than there are in astro.com. Even though astro.com and other online programs have a ton of free stuff, there’s a lot of stuff that they’re still missing, or that they haven’t included, or that they just don’t include because they don’t necessarily think it’s important. So there’s a lot of techniques, sometimes very major ones, and sometimes very minor or obscure ones that you can get by using a full-fledged software program that you can get online.
This is primarily I think for newer or amateur astrologers, but how many people already own an astrology software program? Maybe half the room. Okay, so 50-50. So it’s still useful. In terms of recommendations, it does seem that at this point in time that Solar Fire is the most popular astrology software program that I know of. It’s in a close second place by Kepler/ Sirius which is another program that a lot of people use. On the Macintosh, there doesn’t seem to have been as many programs developed, and people oftentimes will run parallels or run a program that allows them to run Windows programs in order to run Solar Fire or some other program. I know some people use iO. Are there any other recommendations for Macintosh programs? Does anybody use a Mac and run a program?
No? See, that’s a big issue astrologers really run into.
AUDIENCE: It’s been too long.
CB: It’s been too long?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, they need to fix that. They need to make it for a Mac.
CB: Yeah, and it’s interesting because the company that make Solar Fire tried to rectify that. They made a mobile program that you can run on phones and they made it for the iPhone first and only recently released it for the Android like a week or two ago. So they’re trying to fix that but they’re still catching up. In the meantime, if you have a Mac but you really want to run Solar Fire, one of the things that I recommend to people is just go to a used computer store and buy a really cheap old laptop for a hundred dollars. Then you’ll have a computer that runs Windows and you can install Solar Fire on it and use your astrology program on that. So there’s workarounds even if you have a Mac but want to run Solar Fire on Windows.
I guess that’s another one in terms of software programs. I’m glad you brought that up. You can also download Solar Fire or a version of it on both iPhone and Android. It’s called Astro Gold, and it allows you to calculate charts just like Solar Fire does on your phone, so it’s actually really great.
All right, so the next step. This starts to get more to things that are applicable I think to everybody, but especially to newer astrologers or people that are just getting into the field. One of the things that I recommend to everybody is to read as many books as you can and to read as widely as you can in as many different traditions as you possibly can. My recommendation is basically to read as broadly as you can, and then eventually at some point, you’ll come to settle on or specialize in a specific tradition.
Before settling down and picking a specific tradition to focus on and become your primary go-to tradition that you identify with, which most people do at some point, I recommend studying very broadly first. That way, you can get an overview of what’s available. I recommend this because many people will typically get into astrology and just by chance they’ll stumble onto a specific book or a specific type of astrology and that will become the one that they use permanently from that point forward just because it was the first one that they found.
And sometimes that’s okay, but sometimes that can be limiting because there can be other types of astrology that they would actually find really appealing or find very useful, but it was because they’ve never stumbled across those that they didn’t really fully get into them. In fact, sometimes the longer and longer you study astrology typically the more ingrained and the more resistant you’ll tend to become to studying other traditions. So that’s why I recommend early on to study as broadly as you can because then you’ll have a great cross-section of what’s available, and then you can choose from all of those different options at some point of something to specialize in.
In terms of print resources, there’s three primarily that you should do, one is just subscribing to TMA. I say that not because we have a copies in the back, which obviously anybody can buy, but I think everybody should subscribe to it because it’s honestly the best astrological periodical that we have in the community. There are other astrological journals and periodicals that are published by some of the major organizations like the NCGR or ISAR or other groups like that, but honestly, many of them are not very good.
The reason for that is most of the journals that are published by the astrological organizations are put together as unpaid volunteer work. As a result of that not a lot of editorial effort or other effort goes into most journals in the astrological community, whereas TMA is actually a business that has a good group of editors, and a good group of designers and graphic artists, and other people that are working to make a really quality publication every month.
They publish it bi-monthly. So every two months you that you’ll get another issue of TMA, and it’ll have 20 or 30 pretty interesting astrological articles in it from several different astrological traditions. Subscribe to TMA because it’ll give you that great cross-section of the community, but it’ll also be relatively high quality compared to what else is available out there. So subscribe to TMA.
Check out local used bookstores. I see Paula isn’t here today, but she was the former owner of one of the main metaphysical bookstores in Denver, which has just a bookshelf or two hundreds of used astrology books. By going to used bookstores, you can pick up so many great astrology books for almost nothing that can keep you busy for months or even years reading it. The Metaphysical Bookstore in Denver or Isis Books also has some used and some new books; there’s a few different choices in Colorado. Finally, of course, you can also order a lot of books online at different online retailers like Amazon for pretty cheap.
So study many different traditions of astrology, eventually settle on one, but make sure that you have really exposed yourself to everything. There might be something that you are interested in but you don’t know about until you force yourself to look at. Just to give you some idea of the different traditions and types of astrology, there is, for example, modern astrology, which is the type of astrology we’ve practiced in the late 20th and early 21st century. There’s traditional astrology which covers from the 1st century all the way until the 17th century, of which there’s many different subsets. There’s psychological astrology which is very good for character analysis. There’s cosmobiology which is very good for midpoints and other specific planetary indicators.
There’s different branches of astrology. There’s natal astrology which is the one that most of us use, but there’s also electional astrology which is selecting auspicious times to begin different ventures and undertakings. There’s horary astrology which is answering specific questions by casting a chart for the moment that the question is asked. There’s synastry which is comparing the charts of two people to see how they get along. There’s mundane astrology which is looking at how outer planet movements affect large groups of people, such as cities and nations. There’s medical astrology. There’s Indian astrology and lots of other things.
This is kind of a cross-section of a number of different types and traditions and branches of astrology that I recommend familiarizing yourself with because there might be one of these that you’re not familiar with already that you could find very interesting if only you looked into it for a little bit. Additionally, it’s important to familiarize yourself with this because sometimes a client or a person will come to you asking a certain type of question that would be really good for one of these branches of astrology but you might not specialize in it. At that point, it would be good to refer the person to somebody else who does specialize in that specific approach to astrology. And if that that type of astrology exists then you’re going to know who to refer them to, whereas if you’re not very familiar with it, you’re going to have a harder time knowing what to tell the person.
So are there any other major types of astrology or traditions that people can think of that I didn’t include in this really brief list?
CB: Yeah, financial astrology. What was the second one?
CB: Locational, okay.
CB: Esoteric. Who said that? Okay. Yeah, esoteric is tough because there’s several different types of astrology that use the term esoteric astrology. There is the Alice Bailey school for example that does esoteric astrology–I think that was the big one in the 20th century–and I think there are a couple of others as well. Yeah, esoteric is definitely a big one.
AUDIENCE: Weather forecasting and the Magi approach to astrology.
CB: Sure. Yeah, weather forecasting is definitely a big one, and that’s something that Paula–who I mentioned earlier–is going to give a talk on at some point here before too long. And then Magi astrology, that’s interesting because that’s a specialized marketing of a type of modern astrology, which is one person who created a school of astrology that has a specific brand or a specific name and has specific techniques that it uses, so that becomes a thing in and of itself. There are actually some prominent Magi astrologers in Denver that use that, so that’s a good one.
AUDIENCE: Chris, relocational.
CB: Relocational astrology. That’s a huge one because there’s a lot of specific astrologers that actually specialize in relocational astrology and astrocartography. Yeah. Transformational?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, [?].
CB: Yeah, more recently, one of the big schools that has blown up or become very popular surrounding that is evolutionary astrology, but there’s also other spiritual or metaphysical approaches to astrology that use that kind of language and have that goal about using astrology for the purpose of self-actualization or transformation. Knowing that that exists–that if somebody is looking for that and you do some other type of astrology–is really important because sometimes not every person that comes to you as a client is necessarily going to be suited for what you’re offering. I think one of the great skills that astrologers should develop is just knowing what they have to offer and being clear about that, but also being clear when what a person who’s approaching them is looking for doesn’t match their type of astrology and being able to tell them where else they should go.
AUDIENCE: Many different traditional cultures there are [?]. You’ve got Indian [?], you have Chinese [?].
CB: Yeah, Chinese astrology is a whole different type of astrology. Mayan astrology is a whole different type. Indian is much different. It has some relation to Western astrology, and it has some similarities, but it’s also its own thing. And each of those also comes with its own philosophy, its own philosophical and spiritual presuppositions, its own cultural assumptions, as well as its own language and technical terminologies that it becomes a whole thing onto itself to specialize in. But many people find out very enriching to study other traditions of astrology and either specialize in those other traditions or to take pieces from some of those traditions and incorporate those into their own practice, so there’s tons of different things to study.
In terms of specific areas, there’s five areas that every astrologer should really strive to develop in terms of their own practice and in terms of what they should have in mind about things that they should be studying, and it’s not just limited to techniques. So the very first one is obviously technique; it is the real basics of astrology. In Western astrology, we have the fourfold system, the core of the system which is made up of the planets, the signs, the houses, and the aspects, and that’s really the core of the system.
We would call those the basic technical apparatus of astrology, and knowing how to use those is essentially knowing the basic techniques of astrology. And there’s other techniques that you could learn and add on top of that such as timing techniques like transits or progressions, or synastry, or other things like that that you can use to expand the technical apparatus of knowing what techniques to use in order to look at certain things. A lot of what we have been talking about up to this point falls under the category or the rubric of technique, but there’s also other issues that astrologers need to familiarize themselves with and really develop, such as, for example, what is their personal philosophy of astrology.
One’s philosophy of astrology is a thing onto itself in terms of what do you think when you’re doing astrology and in the process of practicing astrology. The fact that it works at all, what does that mean in terms of the nature of the universe and the nature of life in general? What are some of the philosophical presumptions that you, as an astrologer, are making about the cosmos–either based on astrology, that astrology is eliciting from you, or that you’re bringing to the table in terms of what you’re not projecting onto the astrology? What sort of philosophical presumptions are you already approaching astrology itself with?
So develop a clear understanding of your own philosophy of astrology. For example, one of the questions that we talked about two meetings ago was where do you come down on the issue of free will versus fate. Are things more fated or are they more free will? How does that play in terms of your astrology? Is your actual approach to astrology or are the techniques that you use somehow altered or changed in some way by your personal philosophical position on fate and free will? For example, if you believed hypothetically that everything was predetermined, would you talk about the chart one way? If you thought that only some things were predetermined and that there was some element of free will, would you talk about the chart in a different way?
Everybody already has their personal philosophy of astrology, so I’m not telling you to develop that because obviously that’s something that already comes as inherent. But what I’m telling you to do is to think about that and to try to objectively articulate what your own personal philosophy of astrology is. If you can’t articulate it, or if you’re having trouble fully articulating it then try to read up on some different philosophical schools and some different works that have been written on the philosophy of astrology so that you can articulate what your own positions are better.
For example, if some random stranger came up to you, and you’ve introduced yourself as an astrologer, and they say, “Oh, that’s interesting. What do you think? Does that mean that everything in my life is predetermined?” how would you respond to that question? How would you answer that from a philosophical standpoint? Being able to field those questions easily and in a way that’s genuine and coming from your own thoughts about the world based on astrology is a really useful tool as an astrologer.
The next is history, so knowing something about the history. Joy?
AUDIENCE: I was going to add to that. A lot of times it depends on the client too. Especially, I have found that I’ve come across a few who really do believe in some kind of destiny or something. They really want to know what that is, and I have to adjust between my own approach and what the client’s needs are there.
CB: Right. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: So that can become interesting.
CB: And that’s a huge issue because every client and every person will typically approach another astrologer, especially in the context of a consultation, already having their own views about what their outlook is and what their philosophy of the world is, and most times, that’s not necessarily going to match up with whatever the astrologer’s personal views are. For example, in evolutionary astrology, because they’re so focused on specific metaphysical precepts–there’s definitely reincarnation, the birth chart tells you something about past lives– that when you go to somebody that says that they’re an evolutionary astrologer, you have some idea of what you’re getting into. But even within that field, there’s a huge range of diversity in terms of the specifics of what they think.
I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s important to be able to articulate your own personal philosophy of astrology. Then you can work out issues like that with clients a little bit more easily by being able to identify what approach they’re coming at you with, but also to be able to genuinely and authentically reflect back what your own approach is and how that either jives with theirs or doesn’t in some ways.
For example, you were referring partially to clients from India where with a cultural context of astrology and its integration into Hinduism, they’ll come to astrologers with certain assumptions about what the astrologer can do for them and is capable of doing for them, like saying in no uncertain terms, “Will I be married?” or “Will I be successful in my career?” or something like that. Whereas an astrologer that focuses more on psychology may not be comfortable attempting to make those sorts of declarations. They may be more concerned about how the person is feeling at that point of time, or whether they’re going through a period that’s more depressing or a period that’s more positive in an internal sense.
So that’s one of the reasons why a person’s philosophy and articulating it becomes important, but it also becomes important, especially in speaking with clients, but also in speaking with the public in general. It’s important to differentiate–I’ll get into this more a little later–between what the astrology itself says on its own versus what your personal philosophy is and how you’re interpreting that and witnessing it or viewing it through the lens of your own personal belief system because those are not always one in the same. Sometimes there’s a difference between what the astrology says and how far it goes versus where you take that based on your own personal beliefs. So that becomes relevant. Consultations will circle back to that.
All right, the third one is history. I mention this because, on the one hand, there’s this dual thing that happens where astrologers like the fact that astrology is so old and so ancient because it gives it some sense of gravitas or some sense of having some long-standing wisdom, and sometimes they’ll use that in casual conversation as proof that astrology works or why it’s legitimate. So they’ll make off-handed comments about the history of astrology but oftentimes they don’t necessarily have any real understanding of the actual history of how astrology developed or whether the historical statement that they’re making is true or something like that.
I have some ideas in mind, but does anyone have any examples of things that they’ve heard that are like off-handed, historical statements that astrologers sometimes make about astrology that may or may not be true? Yeah?
AUDIENCE: J.P. Morgan had a personal astrologer.
CB: Yeah, he’s the one that’s usually attributed to the quote that said that “Millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do.” I’ve never been able to validate that quote; it may have been made. Isaac Newton was attributed a quote where he’s in a fight with somebody, the guys are arguing against astrology, and supposedly Newton replies, “I’ve studied this subject, sir, you have not. Therefore you don’t have any position to argue about it.” But it turns out that Newton never said that.
So that’s an issue because astrologers sometimes will throw around quotes like that from historical figures as part of the process of defending astrology, but sometimes those quotes are completely made up. And what it does is it actually undercuts your argument, especially if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of arguing with somebody that knows that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
One of the things that I’d really recommend is developing an understanding of the history of astrology and different periods in which it related to culture in different ways. By learning where astrology came from, you’ll actually develop a better understanding of how to use it, and not just how you’re using specific techniques, but why you’re using specific techniques and how they were developed. Also, it’ll just put you in a better position if you’re trying to talk about astrology with the public–either with a client or somebody else–to actually know what you’re talking when you make a statement about where astrology came from, who used it in the past, or how it was developed. So that’s very important.
I am trying to think of it–for some reason it’s escaping me at the moment. I had a whole list of funny historical claims that astrologers sometimes make. Some of them are true and some of them are not necessarily true, but blanking out at the moment. Joy?
AUDIENCE: How about the [?] case that was just recently discovered.
CB: No, that’s a great example. That’s an example of one that’s a historical argument that’s being made by skeptics against astrologers. Anybody that’s studied the history of astronomy or the history of astrology knows that it’s completely baseless because astrologers have known about precession for 2,000 years.
But the news headlines that came out January or February 2011 were, “New phenomenon of precession recently discovered. Zodiac completely different as a result of that.” It was a complete lie, and any astrologer who had studied the history of astrology knew immediately how to respond to that accusation. Yeah, so that’s another good example of not just astrologers saying things that are historically false sometimes, but also sometimes either the public or people that are antagonistic against astrology like skeptics attempting to use history against astrologers but not necessarily knowing what they’re talking about.
We’re studying all these different areas because one of my primary points here is that it’s important to know what you’re talking about and to think about things deeply and thoroughly rather than just having a very shallow or passing knowledge of certain things, like throwing out quotes or what have you.
Okay, the fourth area. I had a hard time labeling this or figuring out what the term should be but it’s professionalism/application. So everybody who wants to get past a certain point knows the basic techniques of astrology, but there’s this whole separate area of how to actually practice it within a professional setting.
While not everybody is necessarily a practicing professional astrologer that does astrology full time, everybody does from time to time read the chart of another person who is a friend or a family member or somebody in our social circle, and in that context, we’re actually taking on the role of a professional astrologer even if that’s not your primary vocation. Once you put yourself in that role–and just about everybody does it at some point–you have to be conscientious of certain things that you’re doing in order to convey the right image since you’re actually representing the entire field when you do that.
Every time you read somebody’s chart, they’re going to then walk away from it with an impression about what all astrologers are like, what all astrologers do. So there’s certain things that you want to make sure you’re doing and certain attitudes and postures that you want to make sure that you’re adopting when you’re doing that in order to convey the right impression. We don’t have to run through what all of those are right now, but just being able to field certain questions about the philosophy of astrology, or the history of astrology, or to talk coherently about the techniques are a really great starting point in terms of being good as a professional if you’re talking about a person’s chart.
There’s other professionalism things as well, and this gets into the fifth point, which is ethics. What are the ethics of astrology? Are there certain ethical guidelines or boundaries that a person shouldn’t cross when they’re practicing astrology. And here we get into a little bit of a murky area because different people have different views about what they think is ethical or not ethical when it comes to practicing astrology.
For example, I recently read that the main astrological organization in France is primarily headed by psychological astrologers, and in their ethics guidelines, they say that one of their basic tenets and rules for being part of their organization is that astrology cannot be used to predict anything. So it can only be used as a descriptive tool to talk about things that are currently going on in the present or things that have occurred in the past, but you’re not allowed to make statements about what will happen in the future. From their vantage point, they’re trying to avoid what they view as psychological harm to individuals who may receive a prediction negatively, or they might not view prediction as possible. They may think that astrology is only descriptive and that it’s not possible to do a prediction. There are some astrologers that believe that.
So the point of that was not necessarily to either adopt that or to mock that model, but just to say that different astrologers have different beliefs about the ethics surrounding astrology and how it should be used versus how it shouldn’t be used. One of the things that is important for each person to do as part of developing your personal philosophy, from point number two, is to also develop an ethical guide of what you think should be done with astrology versus what you think shouldn’t be done, and to talk about that with other people to get a sense for how your personal sense of ethics with astrology does or does not mesh well with other people and to maybe modify your own viewpoint or maybe further embrace your own viewpoint more based on those comparisons.
There’s lots of different ethical issues that come up when you’re practicing astrology. For example, one of them is different astrologers have different opinions about whether you should read the charts of children to their parents. Let’s say you have a newborn, they were just born yesterday. You sit down with the parent, you’re having coffee with them, and they say, “Here’s my child’s chart. Tell me about their future.” Or, “Tell me what type of person they’ll be.” Would you do that for them versus, no, I can’t do that? Different astrologers actually have different opinions about whether they would do that at all or to what extent they would make statements about the person’s life.
That’s an example of what I would say is a valid ethical argument that astrologers have because different astrologers come down on different sides of it. It’s easy to see how you could go one way or another because there are pros and cons for both sides, let’s say. Can anyone else think of any other ethical arguments that are good ones that astrologers have or ones that we might have, perhaps?
AUDIENCE: [?] charts of their significant other without [?].
CB: Yeah, that’s a huge one. That’s actually one that’s important because that’s explicitly forbidden in the ethical guidelines that were adopted by the NCGR and ISAR about a decade ago. About 10 or 15 years ago, all of the big astrological organizations got on this kick about developing ethical guidelines, and they all developed them for all of their members to follow. That was one that they adopted from psychology and counseling which was that, technically, if you’re in a consultation, you’re only allowed to read the chart of the person who’s directly in front of you. If somebody brings in another chart from somewhere else then you actually have to get permission from that other person to read their chart. So that’s actually another one of those where this was hotly debated at the time whether that’s a valid rule and whether everyone wants to follow that, and you can kind of see pros and cons for both sides. Did you have another one?
AUDIENCE: Time and circumstances of death.
CB: Sure. Yeah, whether death can be predicted, and if it can be predicted, whether you should attempt to predict a person’s death. And that one’s funny because it’s another one of those where even though you wouldn’t expect it, you can actually argue both sides. most people would say immediately, “No, of course you shouldn’t predict a person’s death because that sounds kind of weird. And what is the use in that?”
But there was actually somebody–I think it was Deborah Houlding that argued this recently. She said, “I had somebody who was in hospice. They were terminal and they did not have long to live, but they just wanted to have some general idea of how much longer they might make it.” There were certain things that they were trying to do and prioritize before they die, and they actually had a good reason to at least attempt to know. Even if they understood that the astrologer might not be able to get it down perfectly, they wanted to at least attempt to get some idea.
And so, she made that as a counter-argument to what some people otherwise might say: Of course, we should make a blanket argument against predicting death because certainly there’s no circumstances in which that would be appropriate. Sometimes you run into certain instances where hypothetically it could be; I think that was an actual case. So most ethical issues–and this is what makes them frustrating–there might be pros and cons to either side. But that’s one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to think about those ahead of time because they might affect how you practice astrology and how you might deal with certain situations that you might not expect when you come to them.
AUDIENCE: Another big one would be a client asks me to make a decision for them. Looking at the chart and the transits, should I do this or not do this?
CB: Yeah, that’s huge. I mean, and that’s a huge one that astrologers are very often met with. And that becomes even more of an issue, for example, if you’re doing psychological astrology that’s purely descriptive about a person’s internal psychological state. They may not feel like that’s a good use of astrology at all just to attempt to tell a person what choice they should make. Whereas there’s other astrologers that do electional astrology where if a client came to them and said, ”I want to get married on this date, or this date,” then the astrologer is necessarily in some sense making a choice for them by saying, “You should get married on Tuesday rather than Wednesday.” Again, with that, there’s different scenarios in which astrologers get put in different positions about whether they should make choices for people or whether they shouldn’t, and there’s all sorts of nuances surrounding that.
All right, these are the five primary areas that every astrologer has to develop some understanding of, and I hope I’ve outlined a few specific reasons why you might want to think about developing some of these areas for yourself personally.
That leads me to my next point and this goes along with the last one. One of the underlying things I really want to emphasize that I sometimes see as an issue in the astrological community is settling for a shallow understanding of certain topics or certain areas. And one of the things that I really want to recommend is to not settle for a shallow understanding of specific areas that you have some interest in, or in which you purport to have some knowledge of. Instead, try to study things deeply.
Once you’ve studied all of the different traditions of astrology, or let’s say you’ve studied a bunch of different traditions and a bunch of different approaches, and you’ve settled on one that really speaks to you. At that point, I would really recommend studying that approach as deeply as you possibly can and taking it as far as you can so that you become an expert or a specialist in that specific area. If there’s something that you don’t understand then research it as much as you possibly can until you actually understand it; you can speak about it with some authority.
So what I mean by that is, like I said earlier, if you’re going to make statements about the history of astrology then you better know something about the history of astrology, or at least actually spend some time studying it before you start making statements about such-and- such, like let’s say that astrology has been practiced for 10,000 years. There are some astrologers that claim that and it’s not true in the sense that they sometimes claim it. So before you make statements about the history of astrology make sure that you’ve studied at least some of the history of astrology, that you’ve read a book or two at the very least on the history of astrology before purporting to make statements about it or claiming to make statements about it.
If you’re going to make statements about science or mathematics, let’s say quantum mechanics, then you better have some understanding of quantum mechanics because that’s another area where oftentimes astrologers will throw out statements about quantum mechanics that they’ve heard and they’ll use them against skeptics. But the skeptics themselves, especially if they have an understanding of quantum mechanics, will understand that that’s not an accurate statement on the astrologer’s part, and it undercuts what the astrologer is saying.
So that was something I ran into, where I ran into a skeptic. One of his main objections to astrology is that every time he’d run into an astrologer, they would say something trying to connect astrology with quantum mechanics, but it was clear that they didn’t really understand quantum mechanics at all, and this was a person who had just finished his PhD in quantum mechanics.
So that’s one of the things that you should consider, I don’t want to say every time, because I don’t want to make people paranoid. But before you make sweeping statements or generalizations, imagine that you’re talking to somebody who has a PhD in the subject that you’re talking about and how it would be perceived if you made a statement about it with very little knowledge of that field. If the answer is that it probably would not be a good statement or would not be received well–because they would immediately recognize that you don’t know what you’re talking about–then sometimes it’s better just to not make a statement rather than go out on a limb.
Does everyone get that? Does anybody have a major objection to that? It’s sort of a common wisdom thing to know what you’re talking about, but sometimes it’s an easy trap to fall into, to want to make statements that sound good even if you’re not an expert in that field. I guess I would just try to encourage people to recognize their own limitations and to be more cautious when making sweeping generalizations about different fields because sometimes that can look not very good.
All right, and that leads us to our next point which is know your own limitations. Even though my first piece of advice was to study as widely and as broadly as you can and to try and study just about every tradition and every approach to astrology at least a little bit, ultimately, you can’t master everything, and specifically, you can’t master every tradition. There’s too much astrology. Astrology has existed for far too long and it’s far too broad to actually master every approach, so that’s not possible. Therefore, that’s when you should get a broad overview of everything then become a specialist in a specific approach or tradition.
But once you‘ve done that, even once you’ve specialized in a certain tradition, most fields or most approaches to astrology are still too broad to fully master so that you could use every technique within that field at all times. This is where you need to realize that you can’t use every technique in every chart that you look at, and if you attempt to, then you’re actually going to be making things harder for yourself and making things more muddy and unclear than you are going to be improving everything.
People sometimes have this perception that the more techniques you use, the better an astrologer you are, or the more things that you throw into the chart, the more variables that you throw into a chart, the more accurate your reading is going to be. In fact, oftentimes, it’s the reverse. The more points and the more variables and the more things that a person puts into a chart, the blurrier the picture becomes because they’re trying to do everything, and in the end, they end up doing nothing.
What I would recommend instead is to specialize in specific techniques. So find a few specific techniques that really speak to you and then study those techniques as far as you possibly can. Take them as far as you can possibly go with them. Take the biography that you picked out of that specific person, where you read about their entire life in several different biographies, and apply those two or three techniques to the person’s entire life. If the technique that you really want to specialize in is secondary progressions then do the secondary progressions for the entire life of that person and get a sense for how that technique played out for the entirety of that person’s life.
This is true both about timing techniques. I especially mean this in terms of timing techniques, but it’s also true in terms of specific chart placements. Everybody has to draw the line at some point in terms of the number of significators that they want to place into the chart. For example, astrologers in India, or some traditional astrologers draw the line at the seven visible planets, and they say that that’s enough information. They get enough just from those seven basic placements and all of the ways that they can be configured in different signs, in different houses, in different aspects–which is hundreds or perhaps thousands of different positions just on seven visible planets–that that’s sufficient.
There’s other astrologers, for example, up to the late 20th century, that said that all of the planets, up through Pluto–so that’s like 9 or 10 planets–that’s sufficient. Using all of those significators in the houses, with aspects, in the signs, that’s a sufficient number of indicators for them and they will draw the line there. Then there were some astrologers that came in and said that we should use the asteroids. Demetra George, for example, she says that you can use at least a core group of asteroids and those are the primary ones that she’ll use in every chart reading.
But then there’s all sorts of other things. There’s midpoints, of which there’s hundreds of thousands of. There’s Arabic parts, which there’s hundreds of. There’s fixed stars, which there is hundreds of thousands of. In Uranian astrology, there’s hypothetical planets. There’s now a bunch of new, minor planetary bodies out past Pluto that are now being discovered at a very alarming rate. We’ve got a ton of them at this point. There’s even black holes and nebulas and different galaxies and stuff that some people are using and putting into charts.
One of the problems is that there’s diminishing returns at some point once you start integrating all of this stuff. At some point, the entire chart just becomes one huge blog that has millions, literally millions of significators in it that you’ll never be able to take into account even if you lived for a thousand years. Just looking at one chart, you still couldn’t take all these chart placements into account, so the question is where to draw the line.
I’m not going to tell you where you should draw the line because I think where each person draws the line is personal to them, it’s special to them. There’s different astrologers in different traditions that are going to draw that in different places and that’s fine, but I will just say that I think that each person should think about drawing that line at a specific place that’s closer than maybe when they initially studied many different traditions. Narrow it down to the things that work the most and that work the most reliably. Stick with that and not worry about everything else that’s going on.
So realize your limitations in terms of your ability to take into account only a certain number of significators in any chart that you look at and realize that that’s okay. It’s okay to draw the line at some point even if you didn’t incorporate ‘Quasar 49203139-A6’. The planet Mercury, this planet that’s in our solar system, that’s a couple planets away, is more important, I would make an argument, than some quasar, or some asteroid or black hole that’s 47 light-years away.
It’s okay to make distinctions like that. I think it’s important for astrologers–now that we have this overabundance of different significators–to start making distinctions like that about what’s more important versus what’s less important. In other words, start prioritizing what’s important to you in chart readings versus what’s less important and focus on the important things more.
So my last point was to focus on your own limitations, but there’s also this other side of the coin, which is what are the limitations of astrology, and in what ways should we be mindful of those limitations.
Astrology can do a lot of things. One of the things that I think is interesting, when I came into the field, I actually expected astrology to be able to do a lot more than it could. When most people think back to when they first got into the field, or what the public perception of astrology was, or what you would assume it to be based on–let’s say, the depictions of astrologers in newspapers, or magazines, or movies, or things like that–sometimes you’ll get this romanticized version of what an astrologer is and what they can do. It’s almost like they have a crystal ball, and they can literally looking into the future and describe perfectly what’s going to happen in somebody’s life 46 years from now.
There may be some elements of that that astrologers can do, but I think, generally speaking, everyone in this room understands that that’s not quite how astrology works, and that astrology is a bit more limited in that because it doesn’t provide omniscience. It does not make it so that a person knows literally everything about the future, or everything that will take place in a person’s life just by glancing at a birth chart.
It can tell you a lot of things. You can actually do a lot of really weird things that you shouldn’t otherwise be able to do with astrology, but it doesn’t make you an all-knowing, godlike figure, I think, unless anyone else has had that experience.
Given that realization, that realization is really important because identifying astrology’s limitations is something that we don’t always necessarily think about, or we don’t always focus on a lot. But once we do that, once we work out the balance of what’s possible with astrology then you can actually focus on what it can do and what astrologers are capable of and then doing that really well.
So there’s different types of astrology and there’s different applications that are better or worse for certain things. For example, a psychological astrologer would be really good at looking at a person’s chart and talking about the person’s psyche, their internal dispositions, and their character traits, and whether a person would be more prone to depression or more prone to angry fits, or things like that. They could be really good at that but they’re going to have certain limitations. A psychological astrologer’s not going to be as good about predicting events, or saying that a person would have an important relationship come up next year, or that there might be a change in their home and living situation in 2019, or something like that.
Conversely, a predictive astrologer might be really good at predicting events that will happen in a person’s life and saying that you’re going to get married at the age of 46, but they aren’t going to necessarily be as good at character analysis. So their limitation is that they’re not very good at psychological astrology even if they can predict events. Every tradition and type of astrology has this same kind of limitation, where there’s something that it can do really well and it’s really well-suited for, and there’s other things that it cannot do very well, where it’s not just very well-suited for.
Once you’ve come to specialize in a specific approach to astrology, in a specific tradition or branch, it’s good to identify what things you can do really well with that versus what things you can’t do, and to be okay with those limitations rather than to overreach. Astrologers sometimes get into trouble when they don’t specialize in a specific approach or a specific tradition, but they try to cobble together an approach to barely allow them to do that.
For example, a psychological astrologer, or somebody that just reads a person’s character or psyche. The client comes in and says, “Tell me when I’m going to be married,” and they look at the chart frantically trying to figure out how would they answer that from the perspective of their system, and they may or may not do a very good job. Part of the thing I want to remind astrologers is that you don’t necessarily have to do all things. You just have to specialize in what your specific approach or type of astrology is and then be very clear about what that is and what its limitations are, both to yourself as well as to your clients.
Okay, I think that’s that point. And finally, this ties in with something that I ran into recently due another lecture that I attended. One of the realizations I think that people have, especially if you’ve studied the history of astrology, is you very quickly realize that people from a multitude of different backgrounds used astrology, and that astrology doesn’t inherently have any specific preference or bias towards any particular political, or religious, or metaphysical, or cultural standard. Astrology itself is neutral, and there’s many different people from different cultures and different time frames, with different religious and political backgrounds that all use astrology.
For example, at a point in time in this country, especially after the ‘60s and ‘70s, politically, we would say a lot of liberals used astrology; many of those people assumed that astrology is a liberal or democratic thing. But then we have just 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, a president of the United States, we have Ronald Reagon using astrology as part of his campaign effort in order to get elected. He used electional astrology in order to time when to launch both of his campaigns.
So part of the point there is that astrology itself doesn’t have any inherent political affiliation. And part of the reason for saying that is that, therefore, astrologers should be careful about either assuming that it does, or telling other people that it justifies using astrology to justify whatever their own political belief is or whatever their own spiritual, or philosophical, or metaphysical belief is.
Generally speaking, people will bring to astrology their own political beliefs and their own spiritual and philosophical beliefs and then they will practice it within that context, and that’s okay, everybody does that. Astrology has always been culturally relative in that way, but there just has to be this realization that there may be other ways of doing it or other ways of looking at it. So there should be some trepidation for people if they have an inclination towards thinking that their way of doing it is the only way.
I think this is important because people oftentimes confuse the two. They confuse their own views about politics, or philosophy, or religion and how to interpret astrology through that lens with what‘s objectively true. Also, people will sometimes give a lecture, or presentation, or even a consultation in which they’ll try and make it seem like astrology is doing or saying something that objectively confirms or affirms their own political, or philosophical, or spiritual view.
And while I have some sympathy with that–because astrology has often been practiced in some sort of philosophical, or spiritual, or religious context–there’s also a problem with that. You have your own political and philosophical and religious, let’s say, spiritual or philosophical views, and you’re practicing astrology within that context and you think astrology speaks to that. But imagine somebody that has the diametrically opposite political or religious views from you and imagine them using astrology and saying that the astrology legitimizes their views. Imagine how you would feel observing somebody doing that. I think for most people it evokes some sense of, well, that would be kind of weird, or that would be kind of odd for somebody to do that because I don’t necessarily think the astrology does confirm their whatever views.
So one of the things that I wanted to say is just be careful about and try not to use astrology to justify your own beliefs, whatever those are. Now you can still draw conclusions from astrology. You can still bring your own philosophy and spiritual and political views to the table, and you can still acknowledge that you’re looking at the astrology through that context, but it’s just very important to be careful about confusing the two because sometimes astrologers can get into trouble and can go astray when that happens.
Does anyone have any objections to that? That one’s a little still in the process of how to phrase that specific one. It’s a very touchy issue because astrology is often so culturally relative, and it’s often practiced within the context of what a person’s views are and it’s always been that way.
So 2,000 years ago, we have that story in the Bible about the three Magi going to see Jesus and that there was a big star that occurred at the moment of his birth, or that there was some auspicious thing. That story is in the Bible partially because it legitimizes their belief that the Messiah had just been born. A few centuries later, there were stories about Muhammed being born and about a big alignment of planets taking place when he became the Prophet. Lots of different religious groups or philosophical groups have used astrology in different ways to legitimize their belief or have incorporated astrology into their belief system, but it’s just important for astrologers to be, as much as we can, be careful about how we frame that, even if we’re incorporating it into our personal philosophical views.
Next, and this is getting towards the end, but one of the things I really want to recommend to people is to take critiques seriously. Something I’ve observed a lot in the last few years, in the astrological community, is that skeptical critiques of astrology are often dismissed or written off as not valid, or as not even were considering or thinking about very deeply because they’re coming from an antagonistic position or an antagonistic place. And that’s often true where skeptics do approach critiques of astrology from an antagonistic place and not really from a place of understanding.
That’s actually one of the shortcomings that I’ve observed because I’ve actually been following it and studying the work of skeptics. I actually attended a skeptic conference in Boulder, just a few years ago, because there was going to be a presentation on astrology, and I wanted to see what they said. But one of the things that I’ve observed about the skeptical movement is that oftentimes skeptics will make statements about subjects they haven’t studied very much. So they’ll make very shallow criticisms that look plausible or make sense on the surface if you don’t know very much about the subject, but if you do know a lot about the subject then you realize that their criticisms are not very well-founded.
Astrologers oftentimes do the same thing in reverse in rejecting the criticisms, but we actually have an opportunity to do better than the skeptics do. All we have to do in order to accomplish that is to take the step that they don’t, which is actually and honestly studying their criticisms carefully, taking them into account and thinking about them deeply rather than just on some shallow or some surface level.
So study the work of skeptics. Study the work of criticisms and attacks on astrology. Get to know what their objections were, weigh the available evidence that’s presented in the articles, and determine or develop an understanding of what parts of their arguments had some validity versus what parts of their arguments didn’t. Sometimes the arguments that they make do have some validity. There are some criticisms of astrology that are worthwhile criticisms that we have to take into account and incorporate into our body of knowledge about shortcomings that astrologers or that astrology has.
However, that’s not true of all of them. There are some arguments, like the precession argument that was mentioned earlier. When they make an argument that astrologers don’t know about precession and are using the tropical zodiac by accident, that’s just simply not true, and that’s an argument that we can easily dismiss or dispute. But there’s other arguments that may not be so easy to dispute, and it represents actual shortcomings in the astrological community.
Instead of viewing these as areas where we’re just defeated or something like that, or that this disproves astrology, instead most of them represent areas where there’s room for improvement. So we should take the skeptical critiques of astrology seriously because oftentimes they represent areas where there is this room for improvement. So one of the things I recommend that everybody do is develop a set of what your personal answers would be to common criticisms of astrology.
For example, there’s a list that’s been floating around since the 1980s that was put forward by an astronomer, and it’s a list of 10 or more skeptical questions that are supposed to be critiques of astrology posed to astrologers that astrologers aren’t supposed to be able to answer. I would recommend going out and searching for articles like that, searching for those types of criticisms, and reading the questions and then think about how you would answer that question if you ran into a person someday who asked you that in a public setting and what kind of response you will get to that person.
Think about not just what the best and most accurate response would be, but also how you would present it in a sympathetic manner. It’s not necessarily always enough to be right. Sometimes you have to actually present your arguments in a way that’s compelling and in a way that’s compassionate and not defensive, even if you’re right and you just respond well. Of course, astrologers have known about precession for 2,000 years, and then we say, “You idiot.” That doesn’t invalidate your point, you might still be right, but you’ve kind of lost the argument because you’ve defaulted to being defensive rather than just simply speaking from the point of view of somebody that knows more about the subject than his or her opponent.
So these are important so that astrologers can both respond to and field questions from skeptics, but also from the public and from just random people, just normal people that don’t know much about astrology. Unfortunately, one of the things that’s happening right now is that astrologers are losing the culture war against skeptics who are against astrology. And this is happening through events like the 2011 zodiac controversy, where you have all of the newspapers and the news websites in the country printing headlines saying, “Precession recently discovered. New zodiac sign Ophiuchus comes into play. All astrologers were wrong for the past 2,000 years.”
I’ve noticed especially a lot of younger people that are in their teens or 20s that remember that controversy, but all they really remember about it was the headline that, “All the astrologers were wrong and the zodiac changed.” If you walked up to somebody, someday, and he’s 20, and you said, “I’m an astrologer,” and they said, “Well, didn’t the zodiac change a few years ago or something like that?” being able to respond to that question is actually a really important thing that I think every astrologer should be able to do, partially because it means that you have some basic fundamental understanding of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it when it comes to astrology.
All right. Does anyone have any points, or questions, or objections about that when it comes to skeptical critiques?
All right, only a couple more points here. The next one is to strive to develop a better understanding of astrology’s place in society. This is actually tied in with the last point about being able to field skeptical critiques and understand what the criticisms of astrology are. The next step after that, once you’ve understood what the objections to astrology are, is to actually develop a clear understanding of where astrology sits right now at this point in time relative to the broader culture that we’re practicing it in.
What I mean by that is that sometimes astrologers will get into astrology and it becomes like this bubble. We’re all in the same community, we’ll go to the same meetings and the same conferences, and we’ll have other friends that are in astrology, and we’ll tend to associate with them. That leads to this sense of like normalization of like, “Yeah, this is a valid thing, and we’re all practicing it. We all know that there’s something useful to it, and eventually everybody else in society will either accept that at some point, or they’re just remaining ignorant and eventually they’ll catch on. But at some point, astrology will become accepted everywhere, if it’s not already.”
Some people will get in certain cultural bubbles. Especially I’ve noticed in certain cities on the West Coast–where people tend to be more open to astrology or open to New Age things that sometimes–you’ll end up in a situation where because everybody they know thinks that astrology is a valid thing, they’ll think that everybody in the world thinks that astrology is valid except for some small pockets of resistance.
But in point of fact, one of the things that most astrologers don’t realize is that the majority of the world does not believe that astrology is a legitimate phenomenon. Most polls, most recent polls show that only about 25% of the population, at least in the U.S., use astrology as a legitimate phenomenon, and that’s very broad. That maybe just a sampling of people that think that Sun signs or that the zodiac column represents something real, but that means that 75% of the population thinks that what astrologers are doing is false. So that’s a huge cross-section of the population and that’s really important to know.
The other problem is that astrologers run into two issues where they’ve always historically, or at least in the past 100-200 years, had issues both with the scientific community, where astrology has never been validated, and therefore, is not seen as valid, but also religious objections to astrology, where there’s actually a large segment of the population that’s out there that believes that astrology is a legitimate phenomenon but thinks that it’s the work of the Devil. So you get this other aspect of it where some portion of that 25% of the population that believes in astrology, they believe that it’s real, but they don’t necessarily think it’s a good, legitimate phenomenon that’s happening. They think that there’s bad things like black magic being practiced by people in secret societies wearing black clothes.
So one of the things that astrologers need to do is really strive to understand where astrology sits in society right now relative to science, understanding what astrology’s place in society is right now relative to science, which is frankly not very good. There were some studies that were done. The one that got the closest to validating astrology was called the ‘Mars effect’ by Michel Gauquelin, and even that one was hotly disputed.
Even though it seemed to show some slight statistical indication that people that were born with Mars either rising over the Ascendant or culminating at the Midheaven tended to become eminent athletes more often than other people, even that one finding was hotly disputed. It’s still not accepted in scientific circles to this day, which means that there’s literally no strong scientific evidence at this current point in time that indicates that astrology is a valid phenomenon.
Astrologers need to recognize that and understand that, but then understand what that means for the practice of astrology in the broader world. If astrology hasn’t been validated yet then that means that we run into certain obstacles in the broader society that we’re attempting to practice it in. Sometimes we can run into issues with laws against astrology. We can run into issues with academia, for example.
Kepler College attempted to get accreditation, to get accredited degrees in astrological studies in the state of Washington. They were able to get state accreditation but they could never get national accreditation, which meant that the degrees virtually didn’t mean anything. This is an issue I’m bringing up because sometimes astrologers don’t understand what we’re up against in terms of the broader acceptance of astrology in society and that we still have a lot of work to do.
So my point is not to depress people, or say that astrology’s never going to be accepted, or it’s always going to be marginalized in this way. The point is to say that we actually have a lot of work to do, but we could make a lot of progress if we were more realistic about where astrology is at, at this point in time, and that’s only going to happen if we recognize what its current place in society is. My advice is to try and develop a realistic and pragmatic view of where astrology is at in the present.
I’m constantly running into issues where astrologers have not done this because they believe in it as a legitimate phenomenon and therefore just assume that either it’s a conspiracy to keep it down or that other things are conspiring to make it so that it’s not accepted. Sometimes that’s the case, most of the time that’s not the case. It’s oftentimes that astrologers themselves haven’t raised the bar enough to do what’s necessary to take astrology to the next level and to make it validated in our society and in our culture.
That doesn’t mean that that’s not possible, it just means that we have a lot of work to do. And that’s why I wanted to give this talk in order to give some tips for things that we can do to raise the bar on what we’re currently doing, which could eventually lead to greater acceptance of astrology in society. Finally, understanding this will help us to counteract negative preconceptions. If you understand where somebody who doesn’t believe in astrology is coming from then it’s much easier to talk to them and to present astrology in a way that might be palatable or understandable to that person.
All right. And finally, the last point I wanted to make just summarizes a lot of the points here, but just understanding the ‘whys’ is the last point that I wanted to make to wrap this up. So it’s not enough just to do astrology. All of us do astrology. There’s lots of people that do it, that practice the techniques–that very first point that I mentioned earlier–but not a lot of people understand why they’re doing certain things or where those techniques come from.
They stick with the first level of just studying many different techniques without necessarily going the next step and figuring out why they’re doing it and developing a really well-rounded understanding of the history, and the philosophy, and the ethics, and everything else that’s related to astrology because there’s so many different fields that tie into astrology in different ways, as I have talked about up to this point. So what I want everyone to do it just try to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing as much as you possibly can.
For example, if you use a specific form of house division, if you use let’s say Placidus houses or Porphyry houses, you should understand why you’re using that specific form of house division over some other form of house division. And if somebody asks you why are you using that form of house division, you should have a pretty good answer to why you chose that specific one that hopefully does not rely on just saying, “That’s what I started with,” which is most people’s answer.
So it’s okay if that’s your answer right now, but in the long term, it would be good if you could develop an answer that actually had a specific conceptual, or practical, or theoretical motivation. You could say, “I use Porphyry house, and it was first introduced by an astrologer in the 3rd century. I like it because it divides the space between the Midheaven and the Ascendant proportionally. I think each of the houses should have approximately the same space on both sides of the quadrants,” or some idea like that, so that it’s not just something that you’re receiving as a received tradition, but instead, you have specific historical, and conceptual, and practical reasons for doing what you’re doing.
Additionally, you should think about whether your motivation for using certain techniques is conceptual or whether it’s empirical. Astrologers draw on both when they’re using certain techniques or certain aspects of astrology; Uranus is a good example of that. Uranus is a planet that was only discovered a few centuries ago, and we have stories about, on the one hand, how astrologers developed their understanding of what Uranus meant empirically, but on the other hand, we also stories about how we developed an understanding of it conceptually, or theoretically, or philosophically.
On the one hand, we have the story about John Varley who was an astrologer in the 18th century. He kept looking at Uranus in charts over and over again. He kept looking at it both in natal chart and especially in its transits, and he kept noticing specific, unexpected disruptions and disruptive things happening every time Uranus hit this certain part of both his chart as well as other people’s charts.
One day, he calculated that Uranus was going to hit this specific spot in his chart, and he decided he was going to stay in that day and shut himself into his house, so that nothing bad would happen until the appointed time when the transit had passed. And so, he did this, and then just a few minutes after the transit passed, he hears this loud commotion coming from outside his house. He goes outside and then sees that his house has caught on fire, and there’s a bunch of people running around that are trying to get water to put out the fire.
John Varley sits down, and he’s so excited that he starts writing in his notebook his new discovery, that he’s been able to confirm this empirical observation about what this new planet means, and that he was right in his prediction that something like that would happen. And his son, who’s narrating the story, is just absolutely disgusted because he sits down and writes it down as his house is burning down to the ground because he’s so excited about this discovery. So that’s an example of astrologers developing an idea of something by observing it and taking notes and seeing what it does over a long period of time, which is the empirical approach.
The other approach is that sometimes astrologers will look at what things mean symbolically or philosophically and then draw conclusions about it from that. For example, one of the things that astrologers developed as a meaning for Uranus is that it’s kind of like an oddball planet and that people with a prominent Uranus are kind of weird or eccentric in some way. It turns out that the planet Uranus, if you actually look at it through a telescope, is one of the only planets that rotates on its side.
So it’s like a weird, eccentric planet that has this weird orbit all on its own. If you looked at it and said because Uranus orbits on its own side and it’s the only planet to do that, that means it represents symbolically something that is eccentric or is out-of-the-ordinary, and therefore, when Uranus is prominent in somebody’s chart, it must also mean that there’s something eccentric or out-of-the-ordinary about that person.
That’s the type of symbolic logic that astrologers sometimes use to derive significations, and it’s important for you to understand which of the two you’re drawing on when you’re making statements about certain placements in your chart because it may be one or the other or both. But if it’s none of those then you actually have a problem because then you don’t know where the meanings are coming from. So try and develop it based on one of those and once you’ve done that you will have understood the ‘whys’.
So that’s really the final point, which is just understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, where it’s coming from, and be able to talk fluently about that to people that don’t know anything about what you’re talking about. If you can do that then I think all of us will be able to raise the position of astrology in society sufficiently, so that astrology can reclaim a more acceptable place in society where it’s not looked down on as much as it is today. I think, as astrologers, as people that practice astrology and think that there is some validity to it that that’s something that each of us should aspire to.
So these are some tips and guides that I would give you for how to accomplish that by improving your own practice. I’m sure there’s a lot of other tips and a lot of things that we could add to this. I’d love to have that conversation first amongst us in this group, but then eventually in the broader astrological community about how to move astrology forward and how to take us into the 21st century by doing better than what we received because that’s what every astrological generation does.
We always receive the tradition. We see everything that they’ve been doing for the past 2,000 or 3,000 years, and we adopt those techniques, but then we move it one step forward. So these are some of the steps that I think we can take to take that next step forward, and in doing so, I think astrology will look a lot different a hundred years from now than it does today. If we do a good job, hopefully it’ll work much better.
All right, so I think that’s it. Does anyone have any questions or comments? No? Okay. Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you.
CB: I specialize in Hellenistic astrology, which is the original type of astrology that was invented 2,000 years ago. Western astrology, it wasn’t just something that developed gradually, but instead it was probably invented in a very short span of time in the 1st century. My focus is on recovering what the original system of astrology was 2,000 years ago and then merging some of that with modern astrology and some of the techniques that we use today. So that’s my specialization.
AUDIENCE: [?] lecture that free will, choice [?] records that did studies [?].
CB: There are some techniques in Hellenistic astrology called time-lord techniques that will divide a person’s entire life up into chapters and subsections, as if the life was a biography and you were reading it in retrospect, and it was telling you when a person would hit the high point in their career or when they would hit the high point of relationships for 10- or 20-year increments in time.
Some of those techniques that we’re just recovering from these ancient texts seem to be much more oriented towards prediction, and they seem to be much more accurate than I would think they would be if everything was just completely free will all the time. They seem to imply that things are predetermined a lot more than we would otherwise think. But that’s from Hellenistic astrology, and that’s what I teach. I should pitch that.
Leisa always yells at me when I forget to pitch my course at the end. If anyone wants to learn more about Hellenistic astrology and my approach then you can visit my website at chrisbrennanastrologer.com. I’m actually recording two new lectures on those time-lord techniques this month for my online course in Hellenistic astrology. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do a workshop on it here sometime in the not-too-distant future. I’ve been promising to for a while, but we just haven’t done it yet.
Do you have another question?
AUDIENCE: [?] makes me wonder [?].
CB: Yeah, Hinduism seems to be one of the ones that’s the most open to it over the past 2,000 years. So of the major religions that do accept astrology that’s probably the biggest. I can’t think of any others that are as open to astrology or that have incorporated it as such a core part of their doctrine than Hinduism.
And then concepts like karma and reincarnation really get integrated into that, although, interestingly, not in the way that we would think that they do. Some of the developments like attributing past lives and future lives to the Nodes that we do in modern, Western astrology and evolutionary astrology, they don’t necessarily do that in Indian astrology, which is interesting since some of those concepts like karma and reincarnation originated there. Joy?
AUDIENCE: I was going to say that [?] depending on [?] the history of Western [?]. I realize quite a bit of this now [?] the time [?] psychological astrology, remembering other things. So it’s pretty integral to those practices.
CB: Yeah, so there’s a lot of occult traditions and a lot of mystery traditions in the West as well as the East that incorporate elements of astrology, like Hermeticism, or Kabbalah, or other esoteric schools.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, Edgar Cayce used to reference astrology aspects in his readings.
CB: Right. Yeah, Edgar Cayce and a lot of other metaphysical people, other channelers, it’s definitely been incorporated.
AUDIENCE: And the spiritualist spiritual church. They have it [?].
CB: Sure. Does anyone have any other questions? All right, great. Well, that’s it for this lecture, and thanks everyone for coming.