The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 6, titled:
NORWAC Recap with Kelly Surtees
With Chris Brennan and guest Kelly Surtees
Episode originally released on June 3, 2013
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released September 20, 2022
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, I’m Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Today is Friday, May 31, 2013, and this is the 6th episode of the show. You can find the show at TheAstrologyPodcast.com, and you can also search for us on iTunes. My co-host today is astrologer Kelly Surtees of KellySurtees.com. And our topic is the Northwest Astrology Conference which both of us just returned from a few days ago. So I wanted to talk to Kelly a little bit about her experience at the conference and some of the things that we did together since we ended up hanging out a lot and having a lot of interesting discussions and experiences. So, Kelly, welcome to the show.
KELLY SURTEES: Thanks, Chris. It’s great to be here.
CB: Okay, so I guess very quickly, since it’s your first time on the show, tell us a little bit about your background or who you are and where you’re from.
KS: Sure. I’m an Australian astrologer. I have been in Canada, where I live—just outside Toronto—for about five years, but I’ve been working as an astrologer since 2002. I got a pretty young start, like my fellow co-host, like you. Astrology’s something that I love. I’ve got clients that I work with around the world, students as well. I started studying astrology when I was really young, about 11-years-old. Not because my family was into astrology, quite the opposite, but just because I was interested. And I often joke, you know, after high school, most kids go off to university, and I went off and studied astrology. So I took a big leap. I think I was about 23 and gave up my full-time real job and just thought I would have a go at being an astrologer, as people do in their 20s when they don’t have to worry about such responsible things that come later in life. So yeah, 10 years later, I’ve managed to make it work, so I’m pretty happy.
CB: Awesome. Yeah, and your story is very similar to mine, and I’m glad that we finally got to connect last year at UAC; finally, I met you for the first time. Although, I think in working with the Association for Young Astrologers, we had heard rumors of this younger astrologer in Australia who had started her own group and was becoming quite popular as a younger astrologer in her 20s. So yeah, so we finally connected with you last year at UAC. And then this year, you and I both had the pleasure of speaking at the Northwest Astrology Conference in Seattle, which I guess was in the very last week of May. We spent a lot of time going round to different lectures at the conference and seeing different things, and I guess I just wanted to talk a little bit about what your experience was at the conference, both personally, as well as professionally, and then some of the topics that we ended up going over during the course of the week. So what was your experience at the conference? What was it like?
KS: It was actually amazing. Look, I know how political astrology can be, but it really was one of the best conferences I’ve been to. In fact, it actually reminds me a lot of the conferences that I would go to in Australia. So Australia has a conference every two years, and it’s about the same size as the NORWAC conference. So what was great about the NORWAC conference is that it was big enough that there was a lot of variety, but not so big that it felt overwhelming.
KS: And I think, yeah, one of the best things—which is part, you know, of how we’ve connected and got to this point, even just you and I—was that you really got a chance to sit down and talk to people in a way that was meaningful and had the time to get to some depth, whereas, you know, other conferences, you don’t always get that opportunity. So, you know, what I loved about it was not just my own professional development from, you know, teaching—which is such a learning experience anyway—and going to the lectures of other astrologers, but that networking piece, which I think is so important for us as astrologers. I mean, these days, most of us are basically telecommuting. So, you know, we sit at home. We’ve got Skype or the phone, and we’re working with people indirectly. So to be able to go and mingle in the flesh, I think it’s hugely important.
CB: Yeah. Actually going to conferences and meeting other astrologers in person is definitely a big deal. And in my article on 10 tips for learning astrology, the final step for learning astrology is actually going out there and meeting other people, you know, to find other people you agree with and that share similar views or similar approaches, but also to run into people that you don’t necessarily agree with. Or to find people that share different views that sometimes can surprise you, that you can learn from, or sometimes challenge preconceptions that you hold.
KS: For sure. For sure. I mean, I really enjoyed hanging out with people like Mark Jones and Patricia Walsh who are lovely people. And they practice astrology in slightly different ways to perhaps what I do or perhaps what you do, and it was just really great that everybody was able to put some of the specifics aside and just focus on the joy of connecting as astrologers, which is, you know, a fairly unique profession regardless of where exactly inside the industry you sit.
CB: Right. Yeah, NORWAC, and just the Northwest in general, has a heavy presence of Evolutionary Astrologers and astrologers who focus on that specific school, and I think it was interesting for both of us interacting with some of the different Evolutionary Astrologers. Until somewhat recently, I assumed that it was just a single school. But apparently, we learned during the course of the week that there’s many different factions within that school that have different approaches to Evolutionary Astrology.
KS: Yeah, and I only learned that last weekend. And maybe that’s a little bit of, you know, my own ignorance. But I just assumed—well, maybe it is ignorance. Because I know under the traditional astrology banner, there’s many different, you know, styles and techniques even under that old historic model. But yeah, I did just assume Evolutionary Astrology was Evolutionary Astrology. But as we discovered there are two very distinct, different approaches, and it seems a little bit never the twain shall meet, which was interesting to hear about as outsiders.
CB: Yeah. There was definitely some tension there, which is funny, because there’s tension in almost every astrological school or tradition between different approaches that are sort of vying for—I don’t want to say power; that’s probably the wrong word—the spotlight in some way, or who think that they have the ‘true’ approach to whatever that specific type of astrology is. And it was surprising to see that sort of dynamic come out in what seems like a very spiritually-oriented, or what have you, type of approach to astrology, that some of those dynamics still are very prominent. They evidently have technical differences. Different factions within the EA community have practical objections to the technical approach that other astrologers were taking, which I thought was interesting. Although some of the differences were kind of relative to comparing entirely different traditions, some of the differences seemed rather miniscule.
I think somebody was pointing out that one school of Evolutionary Astrology focuses on Pluto and the degree opposite to Pluto, and the nodes, and the ruler of the nodes, and planets square the nodes, whereas the other school just focuses on the nodes. And therefore, they’re kind of billing it as being technically inferior to the other approach to Evolutionary Astrology because they didn’t do those things. And it’s kind of funny from an outsider’s perspective because when you compare entirely different traditions to each other, you have just hundreds or thousands of things that are differences, whereas within a single school sometimes you can see riffs just through a handful of technical differences and that’s really made into a big deal.
KS: Yeah. And it does seem really interesting just what to an outsider appears to be one or two, or maybe three differences seems to be enough to create sort of a whole spinoff, I guess.
CB: Sure. Yeah, and I’m sure there’s lots of other philosophical and practical and personal differences between those two schools, so we’re certainly not familiar enough with it to provide an accurate or complete analysis. But it was an interesting experience since there were so many people who hailed from that school at NORWAC this year. It was interesting from an outsider’s perspective.
KS: For sure. For sure. And again, though, I mean, that is just one example I think that really speaks to the beautiful melting pot of, you know, ideas and information exchange and interaction that happens at a conference.
CB: Yeah, I mean, there were a few other traditions that were represented. Obviously you had some traditional astrologers. I mean, I was certainly representing traditional astrology. And to a large extent, I think Rob Hand was representing traditional astrology there. Even you were covering some topics that were pretty traditional.
KS: Yes, so I always have to explain at the start of my lectures that there are. Yeah, there was definitely traditional stuff. And then, I don’t know, how would you describe Rick Levine and Jeff Jawer? I mean, are they kind of more modern in their approach, would you say?
CB: Yeah, I would classify Rick Levine and Jeff Jawer as a certain form of modern astrology, which is the more—I want to say more technical, but they probably wouldn’t say that what they do is terribly technical. But it’s the type of really good, almost archetypal—except probably not archetypal—form of modern astrology that’s really good about understanding basic symbolism. And I gave both of them, both Rick and Jeff—especially Jeff in his keynote—a hand for being able to come up with very good analogies and very good explanations of just basic symbolism of planets and signs. And I think there are some modern astrologers that I admire their ability to do that. Their ability just to go very deeply into the symbolism or the meaning of very simple chart placements, like having Mars in Libra or what have you, and that’s something that both of them really excel at, at least in their public lectures.
KS: Absolutely. They are amazingly inspirational from that perspective. And one of the things I think that they have really got their finger on the pulse of is within astrology, you know, we all have different techniques and different approaches. But at the end of the day, my personal take is that astrology’s really about serving people or helping people, you know. There’s no point all of us astrologers having this amazing knowledge or insight. We’ve got to somehow communicate to people who maybe don’t have the training that we do, but could benefit from our perspective or our insight. And one thing I think that Jeff and Rick do really well is that. They act as great translators of our ancient art into the modern kind of collective.
CB: Sure. Yeah. Definitely. And they’re usually doing it through—at least most frequently—their horoscope columns and their videos where they do daily forecasts and things like that. But both of them have been doing that for so long now.
CB: For I think a greater part of a decade they’ve really amassed a great collection of analogies and ways of explaining basic placements that is really impressive to me. And I was trying to urge them at some point to turn that into a book. Although both of them, I think…
KS: They dismissed the idea, didn’t they?
CB: Yeah. Well, it’s funny ‘cause they’re really good at it. But I think Rick certainly doesn’t think that that’s his main work or that’s his main life’s work or what have you.
KS: Yeah, so if they’re listening, here’s a shoutout. We really want you to write your book.
CB: Right. That’s not pressure at all.
KS: No. Or Jeff. ‘Cause he gave a keynote lecture one of the evenings, didn’t he, on the Jupiter into Cancer or the Grand Water Trine or something. I think it was the Grand Water Trine coming up in July. And he described it as lubricant, which I thought was fantastic, not because it’s, you know, some sort of pseudo-sexual reference. But Jeff was really framing it as a counterpoint to some of the Uranus-Pluto stuff that we’ve all been very focused on, I guess, collectively.
CB: Yeah, there were at least two, if not three lectures on the Uranus-Pluto square at the conference. And then there were a bunch of other lectures that focused on some of the water placements that are taking place over the course of the next year with Saturn in Scorpio and Jupiter ingressing into Cancer sometime in the next few weeks.
KS: Yeah, June 26 actually.
KS: Only because I’ve had to say that 150 times in client readings lately.
CB: Yeah. And that actually starts a really great period for electional charts related to Jupiter, with Jupiter moving into the sign of its exaltation for a year.
KS: Yes. Yes, which is much better than the Jupiter version we’ve had for the last 12 months.
CB: Right, going through Gemini.
CB: Speaking of transits, one of the people that we ran into who was actually doing interviews with a lot of astrologers was Kent Bye, I believe from Portland. And he recently created a new app for studying transits and for determining what your transits are at any given moment in time, and I thought it was really impressive. And it seemed like he interviewed just about every astrologer at the conference. So hopefully at some point I’ll be able to post a link on the page for this show that has a link to his article. I think you got to do an interview with him, right?
KS: Absolutely. Yeah. He had a theme this time, I think, around how we work with transits. So he was going around—basically in support of his new app—asking all the different astrologers, you know, how we use transits in our practice. And that was fascinating to succinctly summarize that for the interview with him. But then, of course, that prompted discussions outside the interview as well.
CB: Right. What were your main points in that interview in terms of what you focus on with your approach to transits?
KS: To transits. Yeah, I do have a bit of a shtick about this actually where I bang on about combining transits and progressions, partly because I’m of the belief that transits as a tool are a little bit crude or a little bit broad when used alone.
KS: And so, just to kind of clarify them or to enrich them and to make them a little bit more specific, I find it’s really useful to combine them with the progressions that are happening in the chart at the time. And the biggest or simplest, easiest to explain quickly combination that I like to do is just to have a look at the progressed Moon phase and to see whether or not the person is in a waxing—which would be about growth—progressed Moon phase or whether they are in a waning, which would be about release or contraction.
KS: And that very simply can just help you qualify, say, whether a Saturn transit you’re having is going to bring a new responsibility or encourage you to bring something you’ve been doing for a while to an end.
CB: Okay. Great. So that’s how you contextualize transits.
KS: Yeah, I just find transits are very hit-or-miss. One of the examples that I used in the recording with Kent and in one of my lectures at the conference was David Beckham who’s a Taurus. Very famous soccer player. I think his Sun is at 10 Taurus. So Saturn’s opposing his Sun by transit. And yeah, to qualify, you know, new responsibility or an ending, he’s in his progressed balsamic phase, which is, you know, definitely a waning phase. And so, yeah, for him, that Saturn-Sun was about stepping down from a responsibility.
CB: That’s perfect.
KS: And what about you, Chris? ‘Cause I know you have a unique way of working with transits too.
CB: Yeah. I mean, the two main points that I made to Kent about my approach to transits that I think helps to contribute something to the modern approach to that, one has to do with the topic that I know both you and I are very interested in, which is, what aspects are? In fact, a transit actually begins as soon as a planet makes an ingress into the sign that the transit will go exact in. So for example, a person’s Saturn return obviously is the most acute or goes exact at a certain point when Saturn returns back to the exact degree of the natal Saturn. But in actuality that entire transit or the entire series of events surrounding it usually begins as soon as Saturn ingresses or moves back into the natal sign.
CB: That’s one major approach that I really advocate. That transits begin as soon as the planet makes an ingress into a sign that it will later complete the aspect in. And then it grows more intense the closer it gets to going exact.
KS: Yes. And I think we had talked at the conference, hadn’t we, about my teacher years ago telling me that, and I thought it was all gobbledygook because I was still trying to work out what an aspect was, but it stuck in my mind. I guess that’s a transit by sign really, isn’t it?
CB: Yeah. Essentially, it’s a sign-based aspect or a transit by sign. And that blew me away when I started studying Hellenistic astrology because it was so different from at least what I had learned of the modern transit theory, which is much more focused on the exact aspect within a degree, and especially determining some sort of orb for when the transit will actually come into effect. But, you know, orbs are one of those areas in modern astrology that’s kind of all over the place ‘cause different people have different ranges. And some people use really tight ranges, whereas other people use really wide ones. And I think the solution to that is actually very simple, that the transit actually begins at the sign-based aspect, but then it grows more intense the closer it gets to going exact.
KS: Yeah. Which makes sense because, you know, so many things in astrology have that kind of fade-in and fade-out quality. You know, just like watching a sunrise or a sunset. There’s a period of buildup, you know, in the morning, the Sun becomes visible, or there’s a period of fade-out after sunset. And I guess that’s similar. You know, a planet moves into a sign—say, when Saturn moved into Scorpio last year. So anyone who has a planet in Scorpio starts to feel that effect. And obviously, it gets more intense the closer it gets by degrees.
CB: Right. Yeah, exactly. And then the other point that I made to Kent that I think can help to contextualize, but also narrow down which transits will actually coincide with an event or with an important development in a person’s life is using the Hellenistic time-lord technique known as ‘annual profections’. And it’s the simplest timing technique. No ancient astrologer would use transits without first using this technique in order to narrow down which one would manifest in an actual event. So with the technique, you just determine what the person’s rising sign is, and then that sign becomes activated for the first year of their life. And the ruler of that sign becomes activated as ‘time-lord’, so that it’s activated both in its natal potential, as well as in its transits.
Then after the first year of the native’s life, at the first solar return, it moves to the second sign in zodiacal order from the rising sign. And then the ruler of that sign becomes activated as the time-lord for the year. So, suddenly, that planet is much more important both in its natal placement and in its transits. That’s actually a really useful way of narrowing down which transits will actually coincide with a hit, or with some sort of significant development in a person’s life. Because according to the older approaches, a transit cannot produce an event or produce a major change in the person’s life unless it’s also activated as a time-lord.
KS: Yeah, I actually got introduced to that concept seven or eight years ago from Demetra George, and it’s fascinating. In some ways, it helps make our work with transits more efficient and more effective because it basically says, you know, for each year in question there’s one particular planet that you need to be especially aware of in terms of the natal planet receiving, or that planet by transit.
CB: Right. Yeah, exactly. And that can definitely help you to figure it out. There’s some people who clearly are getting hit by, for example, this transiting square between Uranus and Pluto, especially if it’s hitting, you know, some personal planet—like a person’s Venus or a person’s Mercury or what have you—whereas there’s other people who it’s not hitting as hard, or at least not in a way that’s hugely, directly significant to their life. And oftentimes, the difference between the two is that one person has that personal planet being activated as the time-lord through annual profections, whereas the person who it hasn’t hit yet—or it’s not really manifesting as a major life event so far—has not had that personal planet activated as a time-lord up till now.
KS: Yes. And I guess that’s sort of speaking to what I was saying before where transits can so often be hit-and-miss. Like Uranus-Pluto to somebody’s Venus is huge, whereas Uranus-Pluto to somebody else’s Venus may not be. But if one of those people had Venus turned on, then it’s gonna be more impactful.
CB: Sure. Okay, so I guess there were a few other topics that were brought up, but that kind of brings us into both of the lectures that you and I gave. And particularly, your first lecture, I think, was on transits and progressions using them together.
CB: Okay. And your approach essentially is what you stated earlier, which is that using the secondary progressed cycle—and especially the secondary progressed Moon and its phase cycle—in order to contextualize what part of a person’s life is and how a specific transit’s gonna manifest.
KS: Yeah, that’s kind of the key or the beginning part of it. And I guess, too, you know, the thing I’ll clarify here—because I find I often have to clarify this when I’m teaching about secondary progressions. When we’re talking about the secondary progressed Moon phases, we’re talking about the relationship between the secondary progressed Moon and the secondary progressed Sun.
KS: So sometimes people get a little bit confused about that. But the other piece that I talk about is really focusing on the planets that rule the signs on the angular house points.
KS: So basically, you know, my first little bit is about not all the planets in every chart are important all the time. But most of the time, your angular house-ruling planets are going to be a little bit more important, and therefore, influential. So straight away, there’s a way that you can prioritize. Because from having taught for a number of years, people seem to get quite overwhelmed with all the data, not only in a natal chart, but when you start predicting. You know, you’ve got a progressed chart, you might have a solar arc chart, you’ve got a transit chart—and people just go a little bit loco.
KS: And, you know, I always say if you’re confused about it, your client is going to be confused. So, you know, our job as an astrologer is to really get as clear as we can on the symbolism and the timing and then translate that as effectively as possible. So focusing on, for instance, transits to the planets that rule your angular houses, or progressions that involve those angular house-ruling planets—that can kind of cut what you actually see in half—and then using that progressed Moon cycle to qualify, you know, the possible outcome.
CB: And you’re talking about the rulers of the natal angles, right? Not the progressed angles?
KS: Yes. Yes. Yes. And that’s the other piece that is worth clarifying. So you have a look at your natal chart and you work out the angular points: so whatever your Ascendant degree is, your Midheaven degree, your Descendant degree, IC degree. And I would say to use the traditional ruling planet of the sign, but, you know, I usually leave that open for students to make their own decision. I usually ask people to at least consider the traditional ruling planet. There’s a number of reasons why I think that’s important. Partly, is that they move a little bit faster, the traditional ruling planets, and they’re going to give you a little bit more personal or chart-specific information.
KS: So just from a predictive perspective, it’s a little bit more unique. So yeah, so those planets that rule those angular points in the natal chart. So have a look at their placements in the natal chart, any transits they receive could be a bit more important. And then watch them through the progressed chart when they change signs primarily, or if they change from a cadent house into an angular house.
CB: Got it. And that was kind of tied into your second lecture to a certain extent, which I guess we’ve already discussed partially. And I think both of us gave—not similar treatments—but related treatments of the aspect doctrine, and your second lecture ended up focusing on the concept of aspects.
KS: Yeah, that was quite hilarious. Obviously, being a presenter, we can’t always go to each other’s lectures. We were actually giving these lectures at the same time. Essentially, you were using some Hellenistic stuff. And I was just attempting to synthesize some of the modern, but basically encouraging people to think about how some aspects are more important in the context of the chart in question. Yeah, so I did a talk on active aspects, and it really did focus on the aspects in the chart natally that involve the angular house-ruling planets, or aspects in the chart that are actually placed inside angular houses.
CB: Okay. And that’s what you qualify as the most ‘active’ aspects in the chart?
KS: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a simple way of qualifying it. I take into consideration as well a little bit of what I now realize is the Hellenistic doctrine of sect in terms of day charts/night charts modifying, certainly, the Sun and Moon in terms of how influential they would be. But yeah, just trying to help people get a sense—because I guess the philosophy I’m coming from is everything is different based on the context of the chart in question, and there has to be different ways of contextualizing that. And you have some amazing research. I know your talk—I was really sorry I missed it—that you were doing was also on aspects.
CB: Yeah. I was presenting what was originally part of some work that I had done with Demetra George and Benjamin Dykes to reconstruct the original, Hellenistic aspect doctrine and the philosophical and conceptual motivation for it, which in my course turned into a seven-hour lecture when I presented the complete reconstruction. But what I tried to do in the lecture at NORWAC was to present a reconstruction of a specific part of it, which was these seven conditions—these seven original conditions of what we call in modern times ‘affliction’, and the seven corresponding positive conditions, which are known as ‘conditions of bonification’.
And that’s very much tied into the aspect doctrine because it’s essentially a specific set of planetary configurations and ways in which planets can be configured, which can either help to affirm the significations of other planets or can help to deny some of the significations of the other planets. And definitely, I had to set it up by explaining the traditional aspect doctrine and some distinctions that you would make in the process of doing a traditional delineation, like sect, using whole sign houses, and so on and so forth. Using the distinction between benefic and malefic. Which is interesting ‘cause that came up as a topic of discussion a few times, I think, during the course of NORWAC, and whether that was a useful distinction to make.
KS: Yeah, well, it is. I mean, I think it’s misunderstood as simple ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But one thing I think you had said throughout the conference at some point was that when you apply these conditions in terms of the Hellenistic approach to aspects, you really get this strong sense of whether something is being said ‘yes’ to in the course of a person’s life or whether something is being said ‘no’ to.
CB: Yeah. That becomes essentially a special property or a special character that the benefics and malefics have that sets them aside from the other planets. The benefics, when they’re in certain conditions—for example, when Jupiter’s in a day chart or when Venus is in a night chart—they have the ability to affirm or to say ‘yes’ to the significations of other planets in the chart vs. the malefics, which have this special property, especially when they’re contrary to the sect. So for example, when Saturn’s in a night chart or Mars is in a day chart, they have the ability to say ‘no’ to the significations or to negate the significations of other planets in the chart.
And that’s based on this premise that every planet in the chart want’s to signify something. It wants to signify what’s natural to that planet, whether that’s a general signification, like the Moon signifying the mother, the Sun signifying the father, or what have you, or Venus as a general significator of relationships and marriage. Venus wants to signify marriage in the person’s chart. Similarly, if a planet rules a specific house, it wants to signify whatever the primary properties or significations are of that house. Like the ruler of the 7th wants to signify relationships and marriage. The ruler of the 11th wants to signify friends and what have you. But I think, as we all know, some of these topics do come easier or more difficult for some people. There are some people, for example, who will never have children; who can’t have children.
CB: Or there are some people who are not able to form relationships or will never get married, for example, whereas there are other people who have many relationships or will get married at some point in their life. Or people who have children, or who will have many children. Part of that in terms of looking at charts is the ability of the benefics or malefics to affirm or deny both the general significations of a planet, as well as the specific significations in terms of ruling a certain house. And originally, there was a specific set of rules for determining whether the benefics or malefics were fully-affirming or denying the significations of other planets in the chart.
KS: It’s a beautiful concept because it helps clarify, as an astrologer, where you can encourage a client to put their energy vs. areas where they may find there is a bit of a barrier or a block. Like I know that kind of brings up a little bit of the fate/free will debate, but it has the potential to be really useful.
CB: Yeah. Well, I mean, it came up because of one astrologer, Mark Jones, who’s an Evolutionary Astrologer. And he’s very smart and very brilliant. I’m glad I got a chance to talk to him and have some discussions over the course of the week. I mean, he originally approached me with—towards the beginning of the conference—a pointed question. I think the gist of what he was saying was essentially that this distinction that traditional astrologers make between benefic and malefic planets—which he was contextualizing as a black-and-white distinction between good and bad—was harmful; that that was destructive and harmful within a consulting setting and that it shouldn’t be done partially for that reason.
And this sort of launched us into a whole discussion about the pros and cons of that and the merits of the two different sides of that issue. On the one hand, I understand the point that an overly-simplistic and sort of ‘black-and-white/good-and-bad’ approach to astrology can be very harmful in a certain context, and can be disempowering and can lead people astray within the context of a consulting setting. My counterargument and an objection that I’ve developed to some approaches to modern astrology—or some contemporary approaches to astrology—is that sometimes the opposite approach can be just as or equally as damaging when the astrology becomes too empowering, or when it becomes too focused on being empowering and being positive and not saying anything potentially negative…
CB: …or acknowledging that there is negativity at all. There becomes this sort of lack of empathy or this inability to empathize with the client. Some modern astrologers, when they’re so positive about charts, they end up overlooking the actual difficulties and the trauma and the hardships that exist in every person’s life—you know, some more than others. And to whatever extent that a person does not acknowledge that—does not acknowledge that those things exist in our lives—I think it actually is more damaging. Because then you aren’t able to actually sympathize or empathize with the person and acknowledge what problems they do have or what areas of their life don’t go so well. And if you just completely overlook that, it can actually make them feel bad about it…
CB: …and make them feel worse about their life because you’re saying that they have all this potential and their chart’s so great. But then when they look at their life, they see these problem areas; these areas where, you know, not because of their own actions, but things completely outside of their control have not gone well. And if you’re always telling them that that’s completely under their control, then you’re essentially, to some extent, saying that that’s their fault, and I do have a big objection to that.
KS: Yes, that’s good. I agree with you. You know, it’s another one of those things where we’re on the same soapbox around. You know, even outside astrology, there is a very strong modern belief that we can have anything. You know, with the right amount of effort, we can create anything we want in our lives. And maybe I’m a little bit pessimistic, but I guess I like to think of myself as a bit of a realist. I just don’t think that’s true. I would love to have Bill Gates’ dollars in my bank account, but that’s not gonna happen. Nor am I ever going to have the amount of children that Angelina and Brad have.
So I think, you know, that philosophy in modern life has sort of been subsumed in some ways into astrology. And I agree with you in the sense that it really is dismissive of the challenges or the trials or the tribulations that people come to astrology looking for perspective on. You know, it can in some ways be a relief to highlight, you know, areas where there is that lack of planetary permissiveness, I guess. And that can affirm for people that perhaps what they’re doing to balance that in putting their energy in different areas may be a great thing for them to keep doing.
CB: Sure. Yeah. And I think that just to whatever extent astrology is supposed to be able to reflect our lives in all of its details and in all of its nuances, astrology should also be able to reflect that. And part of that is being able to see and being able to acknowledge the different parts of a person’s life where there are events that work out that the person will subjectively view as preferable vs. other parts of the person’s life where events and circumstances will take place that the person will subjectively feel are unpreferable, that they don’t necessarily want. And I think one argument that I’ve been making for a while now, for the past few years, is that that’s a valid approach to take and a valid perspective to look at things on. This subjective experience of the native of their life and the things that they prefer or don’t prefer to occur in their life—that’s completely valid.
And even if it’s true that perhaps there’s some sort of overarching plan or that everything sort of works out for the best in the end—regardless, if good events or bad events befall a person—even if that’s true, you can sort of take a bird’s eye view and step outside of things. That’s usually the argument I think that modern astrologers take when it comes to this issue of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ planets, or benefic and malefic planets and the positive or negative significations that they coincide with. It’s strange to me that the subjective experience and the subjective perspective of the native themselves gets kind of ignored or overlooked in that context.
Also, it’s not a black-and-white distinction, like you and I were talking about briefly earlier. There’s additional distinctions and additional nuances and subtleties that were always taken into account together with the benefic and malefic distinctions, such as, for example, sect…
CB: …and the ability of sect to modify whether a planet is fully acting in a more positive and constructive or a more negative and sometimes destructive way in the chart, or at least as a significator.
KS: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think it’s those subtleties that get lost in translation or get lost when people hear the terms ‘benefic’ or ‘malefic’ and hear ‘good’ or ‘bad’. And they forget that it’s a very rich way, really, of breaking down the qualifications. And I sometimes describe it as, you know, trying to work out whether this planet is operating according to its best self or operating according to its shadow self. That’s very modern language. And I perhaps haven’t used some of the strictly Hellenistic things, but even focusing on sign by strength and house placement, you know, we were talking about Jupiter earlier. Jupiter moving into the sign of its exaltation is, you know, a more vital or enlivened or rich version of Jupiter vs. Jupiter moving through the sign of its detriment. And that does offer a different experience and a different perspective for people.
CB: Sure. Yeah. And once again, just to emphasize the point, it’s more about acknowledging some of the different nuances and the spectrum of different ways in which planets can be situated in a chart rather than just drawing some sort of hard-and-fast distinction between, you know, good or bad placements.
CB: So I guess our argument here—our counterargument against the pushback against benefic planets is sort of twofold. One, it actually involves more nuances and subtle distinctions than are typically being acknowledged before that distinction is rejected. And two—I don’t know if this is irony—but it ironically ends up being much more sympathetic to the subjective experience and the subjective perspective of the native than the other approach, which essentially completely rejects the subjective experience of the native as being not important or not relevant because everything in their life will work out for the best in some way.
KS: It’s a big topic, isn’t it? And we’re really just scratching the surface.
CB: Yeah, it’s kind of a huge topic, but it was one that came up both in casual discussions because it’s an area of real conflict. There’s some tension there between this recent revival of traditional astrology where these distinctions are made vs. over the past 20 or 30 or 40 years the contemporary stance on that distinction, which is essentially to reject it for some of those reasons. So it came up in discussions for that reason ‘cause there were certainly some people who objected to that and brought it up in conversations. But also, you and I—and people that are doing some of the things that we are doing—are trying to reintroduce distinctions like that in a careful manner, and they’re definitely coming back within the context of some of the techniques we’re using, like these conditions for bonification and maltreatment, which can help to further clarify the status of the planets in a chart and can help to inform you.
I think there’s two discussions to be had. One is what is appropriate in terms of prediction in a consulting setting? But that’s almost a separate discussion from can you identify what the problem areas are in a person’s chart that correlate with issues that they have already had in their life up till now? To the extent that you can identify what that is in the chart, you can sort of empathize with it and perhaps help to explain it a little bit more to the client. You’re not making any sort of prediction about it, but you’re simply trying to describe it. Those are almost two different things.
KS: Yeah. But you make a really good point. There’s a difference between what we can use techniques to determine and then if or how we might language that with a client.
CB: Yeah. And that’s sort of another thing that’s kind of annoying in the debates that occur between modern and traditional astrology—that usually those two separate discussions are sort of merged together.
CB: And this came up actually a couple of times in conversations. There’s one discussion which is, what are astrologers capable of doing with astrology and how far can we take it? Like how much can you predict the future? Or how specific can astrology be? Like how technical and how accurate can it be is one discussion amongst astrologers. And then there’s a completely separate discussion, which is, how should that be applied in a consulting setting with clients? What is ethical and what is not ethical? What is appropriate and what is not appropriate, and so on and so forth? But those are completely separate discussions. I realize that there’s obviously overlap. But I think in moving forward, as some of the dialogue takes place between different traditions of astrology, that we have to keep in mind that distinction. Just because something shouldn’t be done within the context of a consultation with a client doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.
KS: Yeah, that’s a really great point to make; it is, Chris. And it sort of brings up something else we wanted to talk about today about the conceptions.
CB: About the conceptions?
KS: Yeah. One of the topics that had come up that we had in our roundtable at the bar conversations was about pregnancy and conception in electional charts and all that stuff. Do you remember?
CB: Yeah. There’s lot of funny ethical questions that come up at different points during the actual process of practicing astrology. And one of them that came up that I’d been thinking about recently is this question that I was posing to a few people, which is, is it ethical to elect a birth chart for a person, if a client comes to you, like an expecting mother comes to you and she’s about to have a child? And as is becoming increasingly more common nowadays, she’s planning on having a C-section, so she has some control over not just the day, but the time in which the birth will take place. You know, what are the ethical questions or implications surrounding actually taking that job and actually doing an electional chart for somebody’s birth? You’re essentially picking somebody’s birth chart. That came up, and lots of people had different answers to that over the course of the weekend.
KS: Yeah, it was a really hot topic. One of our other friends had mentioned a personal situation where she had picked two charts that were good and one chart that was bad, I think. Anyway, the couple ended up going with the not-so-good chart.
CB: Right. So let’s talk about that a minute. So what are the pros and cons?
KS: Yeah, I think—sorry, go.
CB: Well, no. Actually, go ahead. What would you consider to be the positive?
KS: Well, I’m happy to do that kind of work. My personal philosophy, you know, I sit in a position where I’m comfortable with that. But I would have a discussion—and I have done this, you know, to be perfectly upfront with everyone who’s listening. I have done this for clients before. I have not done this for clients I’ve never worked with before. It’s not like I’ve had a random, brand new client call up and say, “I want you to pick a chart for my baby.” The situations in which I have worked in these cases with people is with people I have had an ongoing professional working relationship with. And we’ve had that disclaimer in our discussion, I guess. We can attempt to, you know, pick a moment that is, for want of a better word, or really being very simplistic, ‘better’ or what have you, but at the end of the day, it really is out of our hands.
KS: Because I personally believe that the little soul is gonna come in. It’s like stepping into Plato’s ‘Myth of Er’. We’re really kidding ourselves if we think we can do a lot there.
CB: Yeah. I mean, that kind of applies to all electional astrology, which is that you’re basically saying if it is an option, then you go with this date…
CB: …as long as something doesn’t happen which messes that up and which intervenes. I mean, anybody that’s worked with electional astrology long enough knows that sometimes you can pick out the best election, but sometimes through an ‘act of God’ or through whatever you want to describe it as, things can come up which will force you either not to be able to use that election or to do it at some other time, and that’s completely outside of your control. And even though you were trying to exercise some degree of what you might call free will by choosing a specific election for a specific time, at a specific date, sometimes circumstances will conspire against you to the extent that you can’t use that.
KS: Well, yeah. In the case of birth, I mean, immediately, there are some limitations. Because if somebody’s having an elective Cesarean, you can’t pick a time in the middle of the night because elective Cesareans are not conducted in the evening, so straight away there’s some limitations. And in one of the instances with one of the women I had worked with, as you were saying, an ‘act of God’ can prevent the election being used in the way it was intended. You could pick a date for a baby two weeks away, and the baby decides to come in three days, and the election chart is, you know, useless.
CB: Right. Yeah, exactly. And that actually raised one ethical issue that I was thinking about recently that actually was the only thing that ultimately really bothered me about the process of doing electional astrology for a birth. One thing that worried me is that if you did pick out an electional chart, obviously, you would go through a process of deciding, you know, this day doesn’t look as favorable as this day, and this day looks more favorable than the other day. So you go through this entire process of deciding that this is the best chart that I can come up with that will coincide with the greatest amount of ease and the least difficulties in terms of this person’s life, to whatever extent a person’s birth chart can indicate that.
For an astrologer, if you do pick a specific electional date, and you say that this is the best date that I can up with during this week, and if something happens and the person does have their child, let’s say, a week before that, or on the day that’s different from that election…
CB: …which ends up being on a day that you discarded as not being as good as this other date, that kind of worries me because there could be something where you implant this notion that, you know, the client’s kid could’ve been born on a better day. And that’s one of the only things ultimately that I couldn’t fully rationalize—not rationalize—but left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and made me want to be clear with the client that they needed to be okay with whatever happened and not adopt some negative mindset towards their child if it doesn’t end up being born on whatever’s considered to be a more astrologically auspicious date.
KS: That’s a really good point, Chris. Actually, I hadn’t even thought about that one.
CB: Yeah. And I think this will come up more often as this revival of traditional astrology continues to take place over the next five or 10 years or however long it takes. If you’re practicing a more predictive form of astrology, or a form of astrology that does introduce greater distinctions and is able to make distinctions between, you know, this being a difficult placement vs. this being a more easier or favorable or preferable placement, then there are gonna be certain ethical implications about how to actually implement that in the context of consultations. And this is just one instance of a thing that has come up recently for me that I started thinking about.
CB: So on the positive side, I guess the positive argument I think that most people make is that to whatever extent a person’s chart does indicate or does somehow reflect circumstances and events and just the general character of their future life and what will happen to them and what they will become later in life, I think our friend Kaitlin of the Association of Young Astrologers was making this point that it does make sense that you would try to help your child to have the best start that they possibly could. I think she was pointing out there’s many other areas where you would try and give your child the best start that they could, so that they’re playing with a full deck, or at least the cards are in their favor right from the start rather than not doing that for them and not trying to give them a good start.
KS: Absolutely. And I think Kaitlin made a really good point in that sense that we do this even unconsciously in all areas of our lives, you know, for people who have kids. You always try to give yourself the best possibilities. And in the case of kids, I mean, the schooling or the coaching or the extracurricular stuff—like everybody’s trying to get an extra little edge or boost where they can. With the right intention and the right sense of awareness about what the limitations are, astrology can be a tool that helps to a certain degree in that regard.
CB: Yeah, definitely. I guess just in terms of a client basis, you would want to perhaps make sure, you know, if a client is gonna pick an electional chart, and you agree to do that, that there’s sort of an understanding that they’re ultimately gonna be okay and love their child, or what have you, the same way, no matter what chart it has.
KS: Yes. Yes.
CB: But you will attempt to pick a chart that you think is better or will give the kid an easier start, astrologically, and perhaps less difficulties to encounter either earlier or later on in their life. Yeah, so that was one of the other topics that came up.
KS: I feel like that’s a huge topic, but we should move on.
CB: Yeah, that was a huge topic.
KS: Keep going. We could keep going on that one.
CB: It’s kind of related to some of the previous discussions about bonification and maltreatment conditions…
CB: …and about fate and free will and everything else. I guess the only other thing was I presented my lecture on the joys at NORWAC.
KS: Yes, you had really interesting, amazing new research.
CB: Yeah. And I don’t think I’ve talked about that much on the podcast before because I was still in the process of writing a paper in which I fully outlined that discovery over the past few months. Although, I finally published that paper, I think, in February. And you can find it if you go to my website. If you go to ChrisBrennanAstrologer.com and go to the Bio section, you’ll see a link to the paper and the Articles Published section, which is titled, “The Planetary Joys and the Origins of the Significations of the Houses and Triplicities.”
Essentially, this discovery that I made about one year ago with Ben Dykes during the course of a series of discussions, we were working on this mysterious diagram that’s embedded in Hellenistic astrology that is known as ‘the planetary joys’, the system of planetary joys. And it’s essentially a set of assignments where each of the seven classical planets were assigned to one of the 12 houses. So Mercury is assigned to the 1st, the Sun to the 9th, Jupiter to the 11th, Saturn to the 12th, Mars to the 6th, Venus to 5th, and the Moon to the 3rd.
And astrologers have known about this for quite a while. It’s been a doctrine that’s been around for about 2,000 years, even though it sort of fell out of modern astrology. But what we found is that this diagram, it actually acts like a second Thema Mundi. And the Thema Mundi was this mythical birth chart for the birth of the world that actually holds the rationale for sign rulership, for the quality of the aspects, for some things related to the exaltations, and the rationale for the exaltations and a number of other things. And people have known about the Thema Mundi for a while, and they’ve known that it was perhaps a deliberate invention, as Firmicus Maternus calls it, in order to explicate certain astrological concepts and practices.
But what we found a year ago was that there was a second Thema Mundi embedded in the system in the joys and it explains a number of things. It explains how the four classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water came to be assigned to each of the signs of the zodiac. So it explains why Aries is a fire sign and why Taurus is an earth sign and what have you, which nobody knew before. Basically, ask anybody or read any astrology book up till now. Nobody has the faintest idea of how…
CB: …Aries came to be a fire sign or what have you. It’s just part of the tradition. It’s just something everybody assumed was there from the beginning, but it wasn’t. And if you go back and read the Hellenistic texts, you’ll see that many of the Hellenistic authors, like even the most famous ones like Ptolemy—he doesn’t assign the four elements to the signs of the zodiac. And there’s actually only two or three Hellenistic astrologers who definitely did: Vettius Valens in the 2nd century being the earliest of them. So there’s been this question for a few decades now of how the elements came to be assigned to the signs, and we kind of solved that in this very interesting way that ties into a number of ancient philosophical concepts, like Aristotle’s ‘doctrine of natural place’.
But that’s just one of the things that this diagram explains. It also explains the origins of the significations of many of the houses, like why the 11th house signifies friends, or why the 5th house signifies children. And it’s not because of the contemporary or the modern association between, you know, ‘Aries = the 1st house = Mars’. That’s actually a really recent innovation in the astrological tradition; that association and that way of associating significations with the houses by deriving them from the planets or from the signs that are supposedly associated with that house.
KS: Yeah, I think that’s like a hundred maybe or so years old, that astrological alphabet that people are probably very familiar with from a modern perspective.
CB: Yeah, at least in terms of its popularity. It’s only since Alan Leo that that became a really popular way to determine significations of the houses, essentially, ‘cause that’s the main thing it’s applied to. It’s easy to get most of the significations from the planets on their own, which are sort of preexisting. The signs also have these qualities that are already associated with them. Although, sometimes they borrow significations from the houses and apply them to the signs. And then it’s really the houses themselves where modern astrologers have had a really difficult time just from the symbolism of where that house is in the chart and explaining, you know, why the 11th house should signify friends or what have you.
KS: The diagram—I know you’ve written an article on this, too, Chris. And it’s so rich, the insight that this research reveals around how the chart came to mean in terms of the houses and what it really does.
CB: Yeah, and it’s very long. It’s like a 20-page article. And I was really glad that the ISAR Journal was able to include it and publish it in their journal a couple of months ago. They were very gracious about that. Yeah, but this discovery really does explain a number of things: where the house significations come from, where the assignment of the elements comes from. It also explains some other things about the doctrine of sect and some parts of the doctrine of sect that don’t make a lot of sense. It actually explains how Saturn could be said to be a diurnal planet and how Mars could be said to be a nocturnal planet and how that’s still internally consistent with the rest of the system.
It also, strangely, seems to hold the key to some additional developments related to the exaltations. There’s something mysterious and something not quite clear going on with the exaltations, which is everybody thinks that they were inherited from the Mesopotamian tradition. And there may be some evidence for this, but there’s also some really weird conflicting evidence. For example, there’s a collection of 10 birth charts from the Mesopotamian tradition—so prior to Hellenistic astrology—that survived. And in five of these charts, they mention the ‘secret places’, which are supposed to be the same as the Hellenistic exaltations, the signs of exaltation, but none of them are in the same signs. For example, it says that Jupiter is in its secret place a couple of times in Scorpio, which is not the sign of its exaltation in Hellenistic and later astrology, which is Cancer.
So there’s some sort of issue there. And then on top of that, what the joys showed—and sort of what I alluded to in the paper, and especially much more recently in my webinar for Kepler and my talk at NORWAC—is that there’s something embedded in the joys that seems to show an additional schematization with the exaltations where all of the daytime planets are configured, when they’re in their signs of exaltation, to one of the signs that they rule by trine, and that all of the nocturnal planets are configured to one of the signs that they rule when they’re in the exaltations by sextile. So the trine becomes almost inherently associated with the daytime sect or the daytime planets and the sextile becomes associated with the nocturnal sect and the nighttime planets.
And there’s something very weird about that because it’s so integrated into the Hellenistic system that it almost implies that either everything in Hellenistic astrology was built up around the exaltations themselves, as inherited from the earlier tradition, the earlier Mesopotamian tradition, or the exaltations themselves don’t go back to the Mesopotamian tradition, but instead were one of the things that was introduced as part of this broader systemization of Hellenistic astrology at some point during the Hellenistic period.
So there’s a lot of stuff there, but essentially it just goes back to this debate that’s occurring in the astrological community today about whether Western astrology—the type that most of us practice today that has to do with the fourfold system of planets, signs, houses, and aspects—if that system was invented by one person or by a group of people over a relatively short span of time, sometime around the 1st century BCE, or whether it actually represents a gradual development that took place over many centuries, that we just don’t have a lot of hard evidence for due to the loss of so many texts.
And I think this discovery that I made in this paper that I published recently kind of helps to support both arguments, but it certainly shows much more strongly the case for parts of the ‘sudden invention’ argument, that some parts of Western astrology, some parts of the system that we use represent a deliberate invention or some sort of deliberate conceptual or theoretical construct, and that’s very, very exciting.
KS: Yeah. I mean, I have been drawn to some of your work and the Hellenistic stuff, for want of a better word, partly because it really explains how and where and when—and even to a certain extent, why—we do the things the way we do in modern astrology. So, you know, for people who may be thinking, “Oh, Hellenistic astrology, I’m not really sure about that,” you can think about it as this is where astrology came from in many regards, can’t you?
CB: Yeah. I mean, that’s the case that I made to a few people this past weekend, a few modern astrologers who, you know, were just kind of baffled in the same way that I used to be baffled about 10 years ago about why you would study older forms of astrology. There’s this assumption that astrology’s grown and developed and evolved when, in fact, that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, the transmission of astrology has been so weird over the past 2,000 years that sometimes we’ve lost important information and important techniques and concepts along the way that are actually very useful. And parts of the system are kind of incomplete without those missing concepts. So astrology right now, 20th century astrology, doesn’t represent the pinnacle of astrology’s evolution. It just represents the pieces of astrology that made it through the transmission sort of haphazardly, as well as some new concepts that were developed and introduced on top of that in the 20th century, such as the introduction of the outer planets of course.
But the main argument for studying older forms of astrology—and Hellenistic astrology in particular—that I could make is that, you know, if it’s true that this system that we all use was, to a greater or lesser extent, invented or introduced or fully systemized 2,000 years ago within a relatively short span of time—sometime around the 1st century BCE—then it really would make sense to try and figure out what the original motivation was underlying the techniques and concepts that we use today: where they come from, how they were originally supposed to be used, what they originally meant, and all of those things. Because you can’t fully practice something to the best of your ability unless you know where it came from and what it was designed for and how it was designed or what the rationale was.
KS: Yeah. And that was something I know we really connected with, certainly at NORWAC just recently the importance of taking that time—and it is effort—to understand a little bit about the history of astrology that you’re using. And it does somehow enrich or make richer or more complex or juicy the work that you can do with it.
CB: Sure. Okay, so yeah, I think that’s enough promoting of traditional astrology at this point.
KS: We’re clearly on the same soapbox there.
CB: Yeah. Although, it’s funny ‘cause we should have walked that back a little bit. Because then of course both of us, to whatever extent we incorporate some traditional techniques…
CB: …maybe me a little bit more than you just at this point, both of us still do use many modern techniques as well, including the outer planets. So I’m certainly not—and I know that you’re not—a hardcore…
CB: …fundamentalist or hardcore traditionalist. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. I think it’s valid. And I really enjoy talking to people from any school or any approach to astrology that go all the way and can take their approach to astrology to the fullest extent and fully adopt that viewpoint and then act as a reasonable proponent of it, that can really defend it to its fullest extent. I very much value that. But that’s just not necessarily the approach that I take, per se., and I don’t think that you take either.
KS: No. No. And I think we were talking about the muddledness. Not that there’s a muddledness in our technique, but I guess there is a blend in terms of what we do. And I know I have certainly been reluctant to come out and say, “Oh, this is the kind of astrologer I am.” But I’m also very aware that the way I approach astrology is very different from what I often refer to as the modern, kind of Western mainstream. So yeah, it’s very broad. You know, there’s a lot of breadth and depth in terms of how we do it.
CB: Sure. Well, I think on that note, we’ve been talking about an hour, so we’ll wrap this up. It was definitely a great conference, and it was great talking to you and hanging out and meeting a lot of, you know, famous astrologers. I think I had some interesting conversations with Rob Hand. And I think you said you got to ride from the airport with him.
KS: Absolutely. I started the conference with my favorite astro-celebrity moment where I got in the airport shuttle, and who was already on the bus but Rob Hand. And that’s like getting on the bus with Harrison Ford or Brad Pitt or something.
KS: Maybe not from the sex appeal side of things, but certainly from the, “Oh, my gosh, this person is amazing,” kind of thing.
CB: Sure. Yeah, I don’t judge. Yeah, so it was great. And I got to hang out with a lot of people. Hand made a joke with Steven Forrest, and there were lots of cool Evolutionary Astrologers there. It was great to meet Mark Jones and Patricia Walsh and just lots of people, and definitely hang out with you the most. It was fun hanging out with you at NORWAC. I’m glad we got to do this show kind of recapping some of our experiences, and I’ll definitely have to have you on again in the future.
KS: Sure. I would love to come back anytime. Thank you.
CB: Okay, well, I think that’s it for the show. So you can check out Kelly’s website at KellySurtees.com. And I think I will definitely have her on again for future discussions. So thanks for listening. This was the 6th episode of The Astrology Podcast, and we’ll see you next time.