I’m using some of my “spare time” to retype old astrology articles that I still find of value, with the aim of creating themed e-books, one of which will be a collection of the introductory material I have created over the decades. At 74 years of age I find this work immensely satisfying, as it gathers together the work of a lifetime.
A Philosopher’s Journey into Astrology
By Ann Kreilkamp, Ph.D.
[Note: This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Women in Philosophy, Pacific Division, at Southern Oregon State College in Ashland, Oregon on October 3, 1991.]
It feels both strange and wonderful to be with you at this conference for women in philosophy. Strange, because I have not worked as a professional philosopher since 1973, the year I was fired from an experimental college for being, they told me, “too experimental.” That was my first and only year as a college teacher.
My wonder at being here springs from the same source. For many years I have lived in relative isolation. This is the first time I have been invited to dialogue with others who explore the world of philosophy as a fertile field for their questions.
And then, that these philosophers should be women! Back when I was in school, the thought of female philosohers meeting alone together was unheard of! We didn’t see our identity as women as having anything to do with our philosophy and indeed, would have repudiated anyone who dared to suggest that. So this meeting feels to me downright radical.
I feel a bond with you, and yet you may not feel the same with me. Since 1976 I have worked as a professional in astrology, a field thought to be far removed from the world of philosophy.
So here I am, sensing our common ground at a very deep level, and yet feeling estranged. Not to mention frustrated! Whenever anyone asks me, “What do you do?” it feels as if in order to mention the word “astrologer” I must first put up a subtle defensive shield. For the person to whom I am speaking may get a knowing look on her face. Inside, she may subtly dismiss me, as all the negative associations to the word “astrologer” snap into place.
This is not surprising. Astrology has been systematically misunderstood by Western scientific culture, and especially, by those who are highly educated within it, for hundreds of years.
This misunderstanding shows in the usual question I am asked, which is whether or not I “believe” in astrology. This question, I hope to show, is meaningless. Astrology is not the kind of thing one “believes” in.
I would like to tell you a story of what happened to me, a philosopher who found herself fascinated by something quite foreign to her academic training. I would like to show you how my journey into astrology made sense, given my philosophical concerns; how indeed, astrology was precisely what I had been looking for, without my knowing it. Finally, I would like to show how even an introductory exposure to the philosophical foundations of astrology might assist you in deepening your own philosophical exploration.
During my graduate school years, I hardened into an arrogant and elitist intellectual, quick to condemn what I did not understand. Astrology, of course, I dismissed as nonsense. Being fired after only one year teaching was my Waterloo. Suddenly I was kicked off the ladder I had been climbing for many years. Suddenly, I found myself sitting on my ass, stunned, in shock. Being fired called my entire life into question. Over time it even engendered a tiny bit of humility. I began to open to a wider world. I began to wonder about astrology, despite my earlier prejudice.
Let’s cut now to a bleak, rainy afternoon in January, 1974. I am sitting at a kitchen table in San Rafael, California, head in my hands, staring at a dog-eared piece of paper. My living quarters are downstairs, in the dark basement, fitting symbol for the depression which has hung over me since being fired.
One of my housemates has been taking an introductory course in astrology. Last week she volunteered to set up my astrological birthchart. “Sure, why not?” I replied, shrugging my shoulders. As if it didn’t matter. As if nothing mattered.
So she constructed the chart for me and I have already spent many afternoons sitting here staring at its meaningless jumble of scribbles and colored lines. Precisely the nonsense I always said it was! And yet here I sit, transfixed! Why? Over and over I find myself drawn towards it, magnetized, as if it is a particularly numinous dream. The chart seems to be whispering secrets, just out of hearing. It seems to contain a golden key, to some locked door I didn’t know existed, and now stands there, shimmering, just beyond reach.
How ridiculous! I think to myself, as over and over I catch my psyche just in time to prevent it from moving into the chart, blending with it, fusing. Stop that! What’s wrong with you!
This particular rainy January afternoon I am feeling unusually exhausted. My conscious defenses are down. Lethargically, for want of anything better to do, I pick up my housemate’s astrological ephemeris for the 20th century and start leafing through it. (The ephemeris is a book showing the daily positions and motions of the planets.] I know I shouldn’t be doing this. Know I am playing with fire. I know, somehow, that the consequences of this simple act will be incalculable, perhaps disastrous to my entire view of the world.
It is as if, in this seemingly random act of picking up a certain book, I have suddenly given up, surrendered to the dynamism of my larger being. At first with pretended indifference, and then with more and more focused intention, I begin to look up the positions for the planets Pluto, Neptune and Uranus during the year 1970.
1970 had been a cataclysmic year. That was the year I had involuntarily undergone a terrifying and exhilarating journey to the center of my soul. The journey had come upon me without warning, and increased in strength and velocity as it went along. It was as if I had been struck by lightning from within, as if an earthquake had shaken my psyche loose from its moorings, and plunged me into a twisting, turbulent river, its rapids so thunderous they made my solar plexus thud with fear.
At the end of the year I was changed. That journey had ripped off the masks. I had been stripped naked, with none of the old capacity for playing specific roles to fit various social situations. I felt newborn, fresh, utterly sensitive and responsive to the present moment — and unable to separate myself from it. Gone were the divisions between inside and outside; no longer did I sport a “detached observer” who watched what was happening as my body/personality moved through time and space like a robot.
The Cartesian mind/body split within me had collapsed. I was left alone, a stranger in a very strange land. Utterly vulnerable. And crazy, too, supposedly. From others’ point of view. Not from mine. I was alone, and I was alive. Truly alive for the very first time. Back then, the world had a polite name for my journey: “nervous breakdown.” “What happened to you?” asked the chairman of my department, genuinely curious. “You used to be such a good up-tight graduate student!” This professor was honest in his concern. Others, however, were nervous in my presence. I could feel them whispering among themselves. To me, they hinted that my raging philosophical questions might really be psychiatric. “Don’t you understand?” I would cry, desperate for understanding, “the two are connected?”
Twenty-one years later, we refer to this same journey as “transformation” and speak of it almost casually. A growing subculture within our society now values transformation. There is evolving an intricate social infrastructure which supports the collapse of the mind/body split, what I would call this initiation into the miraculous unfolding of our essential natures.
Prior to the massive and irreversible sea-change within me, there had been signs of what was to come. For years I had been fascinated by the whole question of change, by the nature of the specific differences between continuous and discontinuous change. I was drawn to explore the latter type, those changes which defy our ability to describe, predict or understand. Now, two decades later, there is a popular book on this subject, known in mathematics as “chaos theory.”
Back then I also wondered about “time,” wanted to understand time. One day I asked one of my professors if I could write a paper on the concept of time. “Time?” he scoffed. “Too difficult. I wouldn’t touch the subject.”
Now I realize my professor was right. “Time” is difficult, especially, if you see and experience time in a way that belies the scientific notion of a straight line time running from the present moment backwards and forwards into infinity. Indeed, if time is linear, then time is impossible, since the present moment, conceived as a mere point on a line, has no dimension, and therefore does not exist!
It is no wonder we have trouble being truly present to our experience in this culture. For if the present moment is merely a point on a line, then we cannot “be here now.” Instead, we are solipsists, locked inside our “own little worlds,” living an imagined life, inside our heads. Constructing a fantasy reality of what we would like the world to be, we spend our lives either terrified of or longing for a future which will either repeat the past or help us forget it.
Our trouble with time is not merely psychological or neurotic; it lies deeper than that. Our trouble is epistemological and metaphysical, a matter of how our culture unconsciously instructs our brains to perceive and operate upon the world.
This artificial simplification of “time” into a straight line projection has been especially difficult for women to appreciate. Indeed, we cannot both appreciate it and remain attuned to our own biological lives. Assuming time is linear then, for women, the mind/body split is guaranteed.
We women know from the periodic rhythm of our own bodies that time is not linear but cyclical. That time describes circles, each of which is experienced as a complete whole. We are also aware of the structure of each of these wholes, as we go through the various phases of our menstrual cycle. The new moon phase at ovulation, its feeling of a new beginning; the full moon phase when our blood flows, the initial bursting fullness, the celebration of release.
Those of us who keep personal journals and pay attention to truly processing our experience further realize that we live on many levels, that therefore, we are simultaneously and continuously involved in many different cycles, many different dimensions of experience, many different times.
Each of these cycles, when first completed, can be felt as a whole. It is this felt sense of wholeness which gives meaning to the cycle. Once we understand its meaning, we can incorporate that cycle, and transcend it.
Our cycles of experience come in many sizes. They range from the small superficial daily fluctuations of our moods to our menstrual periods, to seasonal and annual returns, to the gradual but inexorable psychic shifts within the unconscious which are both terrifying and exhilarating, and signify yet another evolutionary stage of personal growth.
Through our lived experience we know that cycles differ from one another, not in their form, but in their size. In form, all cycles are the same, they thus present us with a secure sense of continuity and stability in life. In size, they differ utterly, and it is these differences in size which present us with the specific meanings of particular cycles. The meaning of a cycle is equivalent to the amount of time it takes to complete one whole circuit.
We live our lives as pulsating centers of being, mysteriously attuned to the syncopated beats of many different timespans or cycles. Our lives are pieces of polyphonic music, intricate, resonant, and ultimately soul-satisfying in their creation of a singular, multivalent, and most beautiful harmony.
These harmonies are continuously transformational. As we tune into the subtle multidimensionality of our actual experience, we begin to learn how to change keys, break circles, jump levels. We move from continuous to discontinuous change, inviting “chaos,” surrendering to our own unfolding process. We transform what could be endless repetition into actual spiraling evolution.
I speak here of the slow alchemical magic that occurs within the silence of my own personal cave. As I speak, I am informed by the conception of time to which I was introduced in my study of astrology. These two fertilize each other: my experience falls into the rubric of astrological cycle theory, and this theory provides the framework within which I plumb the deeper dimensions of my experience.
Within the astrological world-view, each person occupies the exact center of a universe which has no circumference, therefore its center is everywhere. For each person born at a particular juncture of space/time, there is an astrological map which depicts the geometrical energy pattern of the solar system for that particular moment, and from that person’s point of view on earth in space. Each person, therefore, lies at the exact center of a series of concentric rings which represent the orbits of the planets.
Within the astrological understanding of space/time, consider each “planet” to be an “energy” or “spiritual principle.” Each of these energies gains its specific meaning precisely through the size of its cycle. The meaning of a planet is the time/space field that this cycle describes. A portion of space/time, conceived as a circle, as a whole, is identical with a particular dimension of consciousness. Thus, as we move through time, we are moving through overlapping phases of a concentric series of cycles, mapping portions of space/time dimensions.
Whenever we complete a cycle for the first time, we begin to see it whole. We can then attune to the meaning of that cycle and become as one within it. As we do this, we make it our foundation, a stepping stone into the next larger cycle, the one we are unfamiliar with, which is ongoing, and unfolding, in its own mysterious manner.
Were we to be truly present to our experience, then each moment in time would open forever into an infinite series of larger and larger dimensions. The “now” as a point would pulsate, and open, into larger and larger awareness. In our culture, we fear this opening, as we fear our nightmares when we fall through infinite space. We fear it, and in our fear we contract, close down. The yawning presence of this opening is too much; we screw it shut and are left as before, trying to feel real as we balance tippy-toe on the dimensionless point of a line going absolutely nowhere, fast.
If, on the other hand, we assume that each person’s experience of time is mapped as the ongoing process of a series of concentric circles or cycles leading out from the self as the center, and we asumme that each time we complete a cycle for the first time we open to an awareness of that entire cycle, then we can begin to understand the seemingly paradoxical notion that the “now” is not a point but an opening, of which its size depends upon the cycle which it defines. We can begin to make real sense of the ideas of “consciousness expansion,” or “levels of consciousness,” of even the “eternal now,” the mystic “One” — identification with all of creation, the compassion of the Buddha, or the Christ.
From the vastness of infinite space let’s now zoom back to the here and now, and focus, once again, on that drippy January day at the kitchen table in San Rafael. Sitting there, lonely and forlorn on that pivotal afternoon, leafing listlessly through the ephemeris for the first time, I begin to feel my heart thud wildly. My listlessness has disappeared. I am plunging headlong into an exploration from which I have never returned — or, some may say, recovered!
For even before locating the planetary positions for that year of my personal transformation, I somehow know what they are going to tell me. I am aware, at some deep intuitive level, that this afternoon will prove to be a decisive turning point in my life.
I locate the page. Yes. There it is. The outer- planet positions for 1970 are precisely where I knew they would be, before seeing them in print, and more significantly, prior to knowing anything about astrology.
That was the day I dedicated myself to learning astrology. Astrology would be my medium, my tool, the language that would help me guide others through their own transformational changes.
For even in 1970, during the profound loneliness of my own inner journey, I knew I would not always be alone — knew that soon there would be others who would suffer the same, as their beings underwent the wrenching shift from mass cultural to truly individual reality.
That realization had come to me one day in the middle of that intensely difficult year, when I had gone into the bathroom, and stood in front of the mirror . . . Every time I went to the bathroom I would pause to stare at the mirror. Not to preen, the way we women do, but to discover just who would be staring back at me that particular day. I was drawn to the mirror like a moth to the flame, to stare fixedly at the dark empty (?) hole of the pupil of my eye.
On this particular day I was in despair, more than usually terrified of the journey I was on. I feared I would be an outcast forever, that I would never return to ordinary reality, never be able to live in the same world with others again.
Staring into the mirror, I heard an inner voice. This was not the first time the voice had spoken. The first time was at the very beginning of my inward journey, just after I had left my husband. I was at a party, and I was dancing, twirling like a dervish to the music of The Doors. “YOU ARE ALONE,” the voice had broken through, booming out at me from deep inside. “YOU ARE ALONE AND YOU HAVE NO CENTER.”
Now, six months later, the solitary writing begun on the dance floor had continued on more subtle levels. I had spiraled inward, to the point where I was now so inside my own center that there was nothing left. The world I had known and lived in was gone. Dead. And I was the lone survivor. Looking in the mirror was to affirm that I did exist, despite the lack of outside contact.
And there it was, that voice again. Astonishingly clear and definite. Booming out at me from deep inside: “DON’T WORRY,” it counseled. “JUST KEEP GOING. DON’T GET STUCK.”
This is what I tell my clients now, when they are afraid. When they fear for their sanity. When they think they can’t go on. “Don’t worry. Just keep going. Don’t get stuck.” At any point in our lives, we have a choice: we can surrender to the river, or we can attempt to control it, dam it up, pretend it isn’t there. Only the first choice works. “Go with the flow.” The second choice creates unnecessary pain, and if followed long enough, will make us literally sick. Rather than changing the course of the river, our resistance merely slows us down.
The language of astrology is the language of continuous change, of never stepping into the same river twice. At any one point in space/time it both describes the qualities of the river and our specific place within it.
As I turned from the mirror that afternoon, the booming voice still echoing within, I knew something else, too. I knew, with a sureness and a calmness I had never felt before, that someday I would help others go through the kind of transformational change which I was involuntarily pioneering now.
Four years later, sitting at the kitchen table, I discovered the medium which I would use to help me assist others. Astrology, the study of the stars. Astrology is a symbolic language which presents both the timing of transformational change and helps us absorb its meaning, allowing us to creatively utilize the qualities of the specific planetary energies present.
Fourteen years later, I am still using astrology, and exploring it further, and marveling at its dynamism, its aliveness, its continuing capacity to fascinate. I have used it to investigate not only the present but the past. Through its continuing guidance I discover spiritual and psychological patterns in my own and others’ lives, and learn how to break them. As we break our patterns, we free ourselves. We surrender to the moment, this moment, this brand new moment, this continuous delightful surprise.
Anything which can be said to be born at a certain moment in space and time can have a birthchart set up for it. Thus astrology can be applied to books, groups, institutions, entire nations. Anything born into matter has a specific signature, as described through the map of the planetary pattern of that moment. That signature is the essence or nature of that entity, which then unfolds through time.
The laws of unfoldment are written in the signature of that moment. These laws flow continuously and inexorably from that moment on. There is no stopping it. All of life is change, as an orderly, multidimensional never-ending process where there is no goal, there is only the closing and fulfilling and opening of cycles, and cycles within cycles within cycles. If the universe has no circumference, then each entity stands in the center of the universe, as the focal point for a series of concentric cycles or circles radiating out from that center point. Our task in life is to stand in our own center, hold open our own individual space, which then expands as we tune in to larger and larger cycles of space/time.
The larger the cycle, the deeper within ourselves we must reach in order to understand, incorporate and then transcend it. The larger the cycle, the more subtle and sensitive the awareness that we gain. With each new awareness, we sensitize ourselves further to that which lies beyond our own small personal world. We become truly conscious of our connections to others. Each of us standing at the exact center of our own universe links, through awareness, with larger and larger spheres of creation.
This is the cosmology of astrology. It has enormous ethical implications. The deeper we reach into our own unique reality, the more we love ourselves, and the more sensitive we become to others. As each of us follows the laws of change within our own individual natures, so does Nature take care of all of us. The Golden Rule becomes easy to follow, a part of our natural inclination. We treat others as ourselves, because we feel ourselves as One.
The usual question an astrologer hears is whether or not she really “believe” in it. I hope it is obvious by now that this question rests on a sort of category mistake. One does not so much believe in astrology as come to resonate with it, become one with it, and therefore, one with the continuously shifting energy currents and patterns of our lives. Astrology is the study of the largest open system we can imagine, the sky, its living inhabitants and their wondrous dance, what Pythagoras called “the music of the spheres.” In the continuous temporal and spatial restructuring of planetary positions and patterns, we sense the laws of change in both universal and particular application.
We astrologers don’t need to “believe” in astrology. Instead, we work with it, for we know it works.
Einstein said, back in the nightmare of World War II, “Everything is changed, but our way of thinking.” Yes, Immanuel Kant is still, unfortunately, right. Our so-called “scientific” perception of space and time, those most universal categories of our thinking and experiencing, are still culturally intact.
This is why, despite my training in academic philosophy, I became an astrologer. To embrace the relativistic conception of space and time of astrology is to revolutionize consciousness. Astrology resolves the original Greek philosophical dilemma of how to account for both the One and the Many. In so doing, it offers a resolution to the most significant problem of Western culture since the Greeks and beyond: the human feeling of separation which leads to war.
I pray that the astrological vision of harmony, between above and below, between within and without, between the part and the whole, will become a part of universal understanding. I pray that this new — and very ancient — vision will serve as the conceptual foundation upon which humanity may learn to address its ancient and anguished longing for a truly peaceful planet.