Does the real value of astrology reside in its insights into human behavior or in forecasting the future? When this question was posed some years ago by AFAN Newsletter editor, Gloria Star, members were asked to send in their opinions. As an astrologer who is also a psychotherapist, it should not be surprising that I came out strongly in favor of “insights into human behavior”. The caveat, however, is that predictive astrology can be utilized in the service of psychological insight and spiritual growth.
The dichotomy between psychological and predictive astrology need not be absolute. I do believe that astrology’s greatest value resides in its insights into human behavior. By “insights” I mean information that reveals to the individual (1) a deeper understanding of his or her basic needs and core beliefs, and (2) the habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior that derive out of these deep structures. But these insights can be integrated with knowledge of transits & progressions and the various opportunities for growth they provide.
In attempting to formulate an ethical stance about how astrology should or should not be used, I think we have to start with our basic metaphysical assumptions about the nature of the Universe. We need to ask, what is the purpose of life? My personal belief is that our individual consciousness derives from and is embedded within the greater consciousness of the Universe. Further, this greater consciousness is always assisting us in the unfoldment of our innate capacities – growing us, as it were, so that we can become more fully conscious of our true identity. I believe the purpose of life is to progressively evolve a deeper and wider connection to this parent consciousness until we ultimately realize our at-one-ment with it. Since I am guided by these beliefs, my interest in doing astrology is to help individuals become aware of, and attuned to, this final goal. So for me, forecasting the future always occurs in the context of facilitating the client’s growth. I might speculate with the client as to the challenge or meaning of a particular period. And I might discuss the kinds of events and opportunities that are typical of a transit. The overriding question, however, is how can the individual best harmonize with the intent of the Universe?
Since I believe the Universe has intentions for us, I am not inclined to help my clients control or exploit their fate. I am interested in helping them learn from it. Accordingly, my ethics prevent me from advising clients on how to take advantage of a transit for personal gain or profit. I don’t tell people when they should or should not do things, like get married, start a business, quit a job, get a divorce, or take a vacation. It has been my observation that whatever the individual does or experiences is always consistent with the nature of the transit anyway. What would be the purpose, then, of trying to outsmart such a profoundly intelligent and obviously purposeful cosmos? Is there not a certain hubris when we muddle is such matters?
This question was brought into sharp focus in the wake of the 1988 controversy surrounding Nancy Reagan and the White House. It seemed that every paper in the country had picked up the story of how Mrs. Reagan consistently and habitually relied upon astrologers Jeane Dixon, Carol Righter, and Joan Quigley throughout her and her husband’s career. Apparently, the Reagan’s were interested primarily in how astrology could guide them in the timing of specific events such as when to schedule press conferences, airplane flights, political meetings, and the affairs of state in general. According to former White house aide Donald Regan, “Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco [Joan Quigley] who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in favorable alignment for the enterprise.” This all seems natural enough. So what if Nancy’s dependence on Quigley “had a hammerlock on the business of the White House”, as Regan put it. When the story broke, many of us were upset by how astrology was being portrayed in the media. In Time magazine, Lance Morrow gibed: “Perhaps Reagan’s astrology is merely the metaphorical equivalent of his jelly beans.” The consensus was clear: we were either fools or frauds. But as astrologers, we know that astrology can be accurate in the prediction of events. And such information can be useful, right? So what’s the problem?
Separate from the question of belief or disbelief in astrology is the controversy surrounding its proper use. It is this issue that underlies the larger problem of how astrology is portrayed in the media. The picture Donald Regan drew of the First Lady was that of a nervous, scheming, and controlling woman intent on “protecting Ronnie” from all manner of imagined disasters. Nary a decision could be made without her having to consult with Quigley in San Francisco. When Nancy didn’t get her way she would whine, shout, intimidate, and ultimately eliminate the people who opposed her. Her hypervigilance and apprehensive expectation that something bad was going to happen to her Ronnie (and by implication, herself) is typical of people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. These people frequently appear “on edge”, impatient, and irritable – exactly as Nancy was portrayed by Reagan and numerous others, including her own daughter.
How can astrology be of help to someone like Nancy Reagan? By feeding her with information that says, essentially, “this is a bad day for a press conference, stay home”? If this is the kind of help we offer our clients then perhaps the cure is worse than the disease. Predicting “bad” days and “good” days for various enterprises can only reinforce the very fears and control issues that motivated Nancy to seek help in the first place. In effect, astrology becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
This is the old debate between traditional, event-oriented astrology and the newly emerging psychological models. Ultimately, we all have to make the choice: (1) to help clients avoid pain and manipulate conditions, thereby appealing to their need for control (traditional astrology); or (2) help clients see events as opportunities for growth and insight, to be embraced with courage and equanimity (psychological astrology). When I say “embrace,” I am not suggesting we advise clients to simply roll over and take their licking, but to exercise their fundamental human freedom of choice. People are free not only in what they intend, but also in how they respond to events that befall them. Choices should be guided by one’s values, ideals, and intuition, not by fear of a capricious and malevolent fate. To the extent that one learns from experience, subsequent experience may be altered. This puts the onus of responsibility on the individual. Perhaps the greatest contribution of 20th century astrology lies in the simple idea: character is fate, and if we can alter our character, we can mutate our fate.
It seems to me that event-oriented, predictive astrology is largely in the service of the neurotic needs of the client. The essence of neurosis is fear and the subsequent urge to control outcomes. Neurotic people tend to be manipulative, like Nancy Reagan. They crave information that will give them an “edge” on what is perceived as a largely unpredictable and hostile world. They lack faith, both in themselves and in Nature as a whole. It is precisely this sort of anxious and distrustful person who tends to seek the advice of predictive astrologers.
Astrology’s portrayal in the media reflects this rather pathetic state of affairs. Astrologers are depicted as pandering to the neurotic needs of their clients, reinforcing the very fears that bring them to their door. No wonder we are an object of ridicule and scorn. This is little more than psychic drug pushing, a sad irony for Mrs. Reagan. Noting the First Lady’s craving for her next astro-fix, perhaps Donald Regan should have told her “just say no”.
Certainly there is a place for prediction in astrology, but I believe it should be a psychologically enlightened prediction that focuses on the meaning of a transit as an opportunity for learning, rather than an occasion for evasive action. Likewise, there are applications of astrology in business, in finance, and perhaps even in politics that need not cater to the petty fears and manipulative tendencies of the client. To show I am not entirely against predictions, I will venture one here: as we move away from our tradition-bound role as palliative to the neurotically inclined, the media will be more inclined to give us the respect we and astrology deserve.
It seems to me that the real difference between psychological and predictive astrology comes down to the question of why are we here? From a psychological perspective, the answer would seem, to realize more fully our human potential. A strictly predictive astrology, however, implies that one’s fate is more or less fixed and that one’s ultimate good lies in avoiding pain and maximizing pleasure. Whereas psychological astrology assists individuals in discovering how they are creating their own fate, predictive astrology merely describes fate without relating it to the inner, psychological life of the person. From this perspective, events have no meaning beyond being “good” or “bad”. To say that they are “karma” from past lives, to be suffered and endured (or perhaps avoided through the cosmically informed counsel of one’s astrologer), does little to help people live more constructively in the here and now. I believe that fate can be positively altered through a process of internal healing and integration. The real meaning of events is that they constitute “feedback” that reflects back to the individual where s/he is at in terms of health and wholeness. And their real value is that they stimulate growth in precisely those areas where the individual most needs to change.
Recently I read an interview with physician and New Age sage, Deepak Chopra, who combines Hindu, Buddhist, and Western thought with the latest research in quantum physics. “There are about 300 million things happening in my body every second when you measure all the biochemical activities,” he said. “Each cell seems to know what the other cell is doing. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be able to coordinate its activities. At the same time, the body is monitoring the movement of stars. Biological movements are a function of planetary movements – circadian, seasonal, etc. There is an underlying intelligence that organizes the infinity of things happening in the Universe and connects all things with each other.”
If this is true, and there is a mountain of scientific evidence and spiritual testimony to attest that it is, then surely the Universe is orchestrating my life in accordance with a divine plan. Chopra claims there is an underlying intelligence that organizes the infinity of things happening in the Universe. As astrologers, this is not hard to believe. The philosopher Manly Hall put it succinctly: “astrology is the study of the anatomy and psychology of God.” Given the stupendous intelligence that is operating behind the scenes, is it really necessary to advise our clients on what they should or should not do? Can we presume to know the 300 million things that are interconnecting and evolving under the guidance of a supreme being?
Recently a man came to me for a consultation. He had a good job with a solid company, and had worked for this company for many years. A new company, however, had unexpectedly offered him an exciting and potentially lucrative position. But this new company didn’t have a track record and its future was uncertain. If he left his old job and the new company folded, he would lament his decision. “What should I do?” he asked anxiously. “Will the new company make it? Will I succeed? What do my transits say?”
I noticed that Neptune would be squaring his natal Sun over the next nine months, making three exact passes. The first was only weeks away. Clearly he was in transition and there was a strong possibility that the exciting new job would prove to be a bust, a mere fantasy, a washout that leaves him unemployed and disillusioned. However, if he keeps his old job, Neptune is not going to stop its movement in the heavens; he is still going to have the transit. So what happens if he stays with the old company? Will he become increasingly disillusioned with his current job, suffer remorse that he let a golden opportunity slip by, regret that he is stuck in a stagnant swamp of boring routine and predictable outcomes?
One can interpret the nature of the transit either way. Whether he stays or leaves, a core theme in his life will be Neptune square Sun – potential illusion, confusion, and disillusionment; there may be hardship, loss, or an ending of some sort. Perhaps his current company will go through a downsizing and he will be replaced. However, if he leaves his old job, he will probably go through a span of relative chaos on the new job, with lack of clearly defined duties, feelings of helplessness or confusion, perhaps a sense of being invisible or not having an impact. Of course, there can be positive outcomes, too – a sense of inspiration, of having the consummate job, of doing something that serves the greater whole, of sacrificing for an ideal. The point is: he has the transit in either case.
Since I am not going to tell him what to do, what can I say? My inclination is to describe the quality and opportunity of the transit – a time to deepen your intuition, a period of forming a vision of your highest good, a sense of limitless possibility, a potential spiritual awakening. “But whatever happens,” I say, “there will be a test of faith – can you surrender? Can you trust the Universe no matter what happens?” For that is what will be required of him. I would also point out that while there is always the possibility of loss during such a transit, there is also an opportunity for softening, elevating, and refining one’s nature – for transcending one’s ego and deepening one’s faith in a higher power. It is, in short, a time for “letting go and letting God”. As to whether he should leave his current job, there is no answer I can give him, for one of the core meanings of the transit is the opportunity it affords – no, requires, for increasing one’s trust in an inner source of knowing. If I take that away by recommending a specific course of action, I do him a great disservice. I steal his choice, for it would be interfering in his fate to predict an outcome regarding the new company. The important thing is not what is going to happen, but how he accommodates to his fate – if it is difficult, does he bemoan it with bitter despair? Will he cry out like Job, “why me, God!?” Or will he embrace it with courage and equanimity? I believe our value as astrologers lies less in telling people what to do than in encouraging them to trust themselves and the larger Universe. I am reminded of Max Ehrmann’s letter to his son.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
If the core of the human being is identical to the ultimate reality of the Universe, then it seems that our greatest good lies in the realization of this fact. For if we trust our fate, and realize it is purposeful in a way that transcends the petty concerns that plague our everyday lives, then much unnecessary suffering can be avoided. I believe the goal of counseling should be to assist people in attaining an ever deeper trust in their own essential natures. But if I predict futures with the intent of helping people to maximize pleasure/profit and minimize pain/loss, the implication is that they should trust me rather than themselves. Such work may run counter to the thrust of the Universe. It encourages people to look outside themselves for guidance, it subverts the process of growth that results from working through difficulties, and it reinforces the very process of fear that brings the client to the astrologer’s door. I want to help people not only to know themselves but to trust in a process that is inexorably moving them toward greater realization of their fullest potentials. In the final analysis, to trust the Universe is to trust oneself; it is to have faith in an intelligent and purposive process that resides in the furthest reaches of the cosmos and in the deepest recesses of the human psyche. Joining the two into a one, that’s the work.
Authors Details:Glenn Perry
Glenn Perry, Ph.D. has been A professional astrologer since 1974, he is director of The Association for Astrological Psychology and former editor-publisher of The Journal of Astro Psychology. He has written three books, including Essays In Psychological Astrology.
Glenn also offers a mentorship program, which is a personalized course in natal chart interpretation from a depth psychological perspective. For more information…
The Authors Website