A.K. Reader: My Journey into Astrology (1986)

Now that I’ve decided to do the presentation I would have given to the general public at our Green Acres Village Community Dinner instead, I can relax. For the subject matter of this presentation is so controversial that I have been warned by a number of people that I could become a target! And this, in sweet, gentle, civilized, academic Bloomington? Well, yes. Because the subject matter I’m most interested in addressing during this toxic polarized moment in American history is The Astrology of Donald Trump and the U.S.A. 

Need I say more? While I’ve put up a number of posts here on both Donald Trump and the U.S.A. chart, and though I’ve even done at least one post connecting the two, writing something for a blog is different than telling it out loud to real people with strong views about precisely this subject matter, “Donald Trump and the U.S.A.” — the only difference being that I put the words “The Astrology of . . .” in front of it!

But that’s the point, isn’t it? I’m impulsed — and have been, ever since DJT took office a year ago — to  look at both his behavior and the public reaction to his presidency  by introducing an entirely other way to frame our understanding. And given that for over 40 years I have been not just speaking, but breathing the language of astrology, why not look at this touchy DJT subject matter through that ancient lens?

And yet, it’s difficult for me to stop and try to “explain” astrology to others. Instead, I just tend to speak it, and let people gradually pick up the import of what I’m saying. In that vein, I’ve written a number of posts on this blog that embed astrology, but only one so far, have I put up that actually attempts to “explain” it. That post was the text of a lecture I gave in 1991, to the Society of Female Philosophers, in Oregon. I wanted them to be able to go with me, down the rabbit hole of what happened during the year when I “lost my mind” and then found it again, changed, and then, a year later, began to use the language of astrology to help frame up my new way of being in space and time on this planet. Here’s that essay:

How A Philosopher Got into Astrology (1991)

Now, as a result of the recent contemplation of AKID,  I’ve decided to collect and share, in various ways, all my old essays from way back when — there are at least a hundred of them, maybe more, and all of them, I notice as I retype them into word docs, still of great value, in fact perhaps of more value now than when I composed them. Indeed, the person who wrote those essays is not the same person that I am now. My thinking has mutated along with the culture. I can rarely hold a focus with such steadiness and surety as I did back then. My thinking process now tends to be both fractured into smaller bits and liable to jump and/or span dimensions at will! 

And yet, that person, Ann Kreilkamp, still continues, or at least her soul does, and it feels as if it is the soul that has been writing these essays all along. She doesn’t change, but her manner of expression does, in sync with her surroundings. That I choose to publish these old essays now is my way of offering a healing balm to our culture — hopefully assisting us to slow down, really feel our way into something, concentrate —rather than jumping all around, distracted. For that is what these essays represent, an old-fashioned way of living and being and thinking that feels so continuous and inherently rhythmic, that it’s almost foreign to us now, though deeply familiar to who we used to be.

In that vein, here is another piece that I wrote way back when to introduce people to my journey, as a philosopher, into astrology. It complements the one above, though addressed to a more general audience. I wrote it as an Introduction to a yet unpublished manuscript, “Earth Is A Heavenly Body.”


Image: Astrology.com


by Ann Kreilkamp


“And you?” My teacher looked up, his left eyebrow arched, pencil poised. “I want to do a paper on the concept of ‘time,’” I mumbled, timidly. “Time?” He sniffed. “I wouldn’t touch the subject. Too difficult.”

Shocked by his refusal, and how it made me, for a moment, the center of a scornful audience of his other pet graduate students, my cheeks burned. Shrinking into my seat, I agreed to change my topic to something smaller, more manageable.

That exchange occurred twenty years ago. I find myself remembering it now, as it was an early clue in my thinking process to what would eventually become a passion for astrology. Back then, my teacher wouldn’t have touched the subject of astrology either. Not because it was “too difficult” (actually, sometimes I think it is!), but because, he told me over lunch one day, it was “nonsense.”

In this opinion, my teacher was reflecting what was then — and still is — the dominant cultural view of astrology. This view is especially pronounced in academic circles. “Superstition!” they huff, when asked, and strive to confine their thoughts to reason. Naturally, as a child of my time, I too had absorbed the dominant view of astrology.

I was a doctoral student in philosophy for six long years, during which I forced my self to think with left brain only. This rigorous training regime reinforced my acquiescence to the dominant view of astrology. Astrology was nonsense, of course! But I did want to understand time. That there could have been a connection between astrology and the study of time, did not occur to me.

Astrology is the study of the changing forms of space and time, as revealed by the positions and motions of heavenly bodies. It isolates and investigates abstract maps — of structures and processes, circles and cycles, and their various and complex rhythmic relations. Any particular moment, as experienced from the point of view of a particular place on earth, can be isolated as a certain set of space/time coordinates. These coordinates, in principle, both focus with pinpoint precision on that one space/time point only and yet include the entire solar system as background context.

Specifying the set of coordinates as a cross formed by the intersection of horizontal and vertical lines, the astrological map is designed as a circle with a cross in it. The earth is located in the center of the circle; the planets range around it at various points on the circumference.

We are all familiar with this basic design. The cross inside the circle is easily the fundamental perceptual form. This form has universal significance: the cross of matter is surrounded by the circle of spirit. Each of us is a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. For each of us, the task is to circle the square, square the circle, and learn how to integrate matter and spirit in our lives.

This basic perceptual form is a living mandala, with deep symbolic underpinnings. Called in alchemy the “quadrature circuli,” the cross inside the circle is a symbol that both reaches back to the ancients and is found in many symbol systems today, world-wide. We recognize it in the cross and the halo of the Christ; we see it in the Native American medicine wheel and its four directions; we witness it in the first recognizable drawings made by any child; and we acknowledge it in the deep structure of the language of astrology.

An astrological map can be constructed for anyone or anything said to be born at a certain time and place. The astrological “birthchart” is a mandala figure, symbol of wholeness for the being it represents. It puts that particular being at the exact center of its own universe — an expanding universe, where the orbits of planets are conceived as a series of concentric rings ranging outwards from that centerpoint.

If our task, here on earth, is consciousness expansion, then the astrological world-view, with its continuous expansion outward from any given center, is the largest meaningful reference system we could possibly ask for! How to interpret a birthchart is, however, a fiendishly subtle and complex matter, more art than science, and wisely practiced only after years pondering the marvelous intricacies of both astrology and human nature.

After completing my doctoral degree in philosophy, I moved to California to begin my long awaited career as a philosophy teacher in a young experimental college. At the end of that school year I was summarily fired — for being “too experimental.” What a shock! Not that I blame them now. I was righteous and dogmatic. And I did not understand time — or “timing,” having no idea of what a particular community could absorb in a certain amount of time.

Time had caught up with me. An astrologer could have predicted it, or something like it. During the entire year I was teaching, the planet Saturn (called “Father Time” by the medievals; back then life expectancy wasn’t much longer than thirty years, the equivalent of one full cycle of Saturn) crossed back and forth over my “Descendant.” The Descendant is the point in the zodiac which was setting in the western sky at my birth, and means, roughly, where I emerge from a private into a more public world. Saturn, which can signify separation, certainly did that to me then. In one stroke, I was rudely severed from what I had been judging against.

The collapse of this long planned career structure for my life shattered my long held views on life as well, and left me open, vulnerable. So much so, that when one woman, noticing my evident confusion, volunteered to construct my “astrological chart,” I succumbed to that nonsense.

She also offered to “read” it for me, but I refused. Didn’t trust her. Didn’t trust anyone after being fired. Instead, I stared at the design she had created, and was instantly — if unwillingly — caught by its strangeness, its oddly haunting power. For three months I stared, mesmerized, and stared into the mirror too, trying, trying, trying to bring my face into focus. Gradually the question dawned: could this design be a mirror — metaphorically? A mirror for my life? Could my astrological birthchart help me understand what had happened to me?

Instinctively, I knew that the quickest, most incisive way to find out was to look at the positions and motions of what are called the “outer planets” in relation to my birthchart — for a certain two year period of my life. The outer planets — Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto — said to signify the “energies” of the “collective unconscious mind,” are related to the evolutionary path upon which our species is embarked. When any of these planets cross points occupied by personal planets in an individual’s birthchart, they set off a series of inner and outer events in the life which are so mysterious and so strange that they do not fit in with our current cultural perceptions of reality. Indeed, those who have undergone such an experience unanimously speak of it as something they could not have believed or predicted beforehand, and which acted upon or moved within them in a way beyond their conscious control.

Our scientific culture doesn’t like to think of events being unpredictable and “out of control.” Such a state, when occurring to an individual, is labeled crazy, to be avoided. “Get control of yourself” they would tell me, when, three years previously, in the middle of my graduate school years, I found myself undergoing a massive and prolonged unconscious turbulence which was politely referred to then as a “nervous breakdown.” (Now we call it “transformation.”)

Even during those dark and fertile and frightening, and yet, mysteriously wondrous two years, I recognized them as an initiation process, a grand turning point in my life. Prior to this time, as one of my teachers put it, I had been a “good uptight graduate student.” (“So why did you give it up?” He asked, genuinely puzzled.) The “breakdown” was a “breakthrough” — into another reality altogether. I mutated, I transformed, into a questing flaming revolutionary: first, in thought and word — as a graduate student, then in action — as a college teacher.

Now I had been fired. The ladder I had been climbing all my life had suddenly been yanked out from under me. Still in shock, I sat there staring at my birthchart — such nonsense! — and wondered if it could help me understand what had happened to me. There seemed to be no rational explanation for why I had, so suddenly and irrevocably, “lost my mind.” And yet, even during that period of deep struggle, in which I was isolated from everything and everyone I had ever known — there was an inner voice which reassured me, over and over again, that the experience was necessary, that it was good, and that someday I would help others go through it too.

Now, faced with my own question, and a possible tool for answering it, I was filled with dread. What if astrology worked? What would that mean? What kind of world would I be living in then? Trembling, fully aware of the significance of that moment in my life, I looked up the positions of the outer planets in a 20th century “ephemeris” (a book which gives the astronomical positions for the daily motions of the planets) for the year of 1970-71.

Lo and behold, there it was; evidence, proof! (Well, not exactly “proof” — indeed, I had devoted one long footnote in my doctoral dissertation on the pretension of “proof”; on the ontology of proof, even mathematical proof, as being merely a human construct, a certain sort of “form” — no more and no less “certain” than other forms.)

What I discovered: during those two years all three outer planets were exactly conjunct several of my “personal” (i.e., short-cycled) planets, a situation that was both extraordinary and unprecedented. Only at unusual junctures in our lives do outer planets all “act” upon us at once — and in some lives, they never do. When they do, however — various sources would term it fortunate or unfortunate — we are faced with a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.

How we respond to this opportunity varies according to how open we are, or conversely: how fully we have managed to insulate ourselves from the possibility of radical change. Some people are so numbed to what goes on in their inner lives that they don’t even notice these opportunities when they knock on the door. Most people, however, do respond, but assume and act like something is happening to them, from the outside, rather than occurring, as a flowering, from within. And some of us — a few of us, more and more all the time — blossom. We begin to expand, outwards and inwards, from our centers. We grow sensitive to both our own utter uniqueness and our communion with every living thing.

Opportunities of this kind are never exactly repeated. In fact, unrepeatability is of the nature of outer planet energies: their cycles are so long that no position they make can ever repeat itself in one lifetime.

What I found when I looked up the positions and motions of the outer planets for those two years was what I had been expecting to find. As in science; once we ask the question, nature answers. Notice: nature doesn’t give answers without questions eliciting them. What counts is a specific, riveting focus. What drives us is sometimes a certain, more or less terrible need to know. The psychic energy behind that need skews our attention in the direction our unconscious knows will yield the answer.

Intuitively, I knew that if astrology made sense, then it would have highlighted those years in the manner that it indeed did. Personal planets would have been temporarily “activated” by conjunction to the transits of outer planets.

It was settled. This was how I would help others. I had found my tool. Astrology was to become the lens through which I would look at others’ lives, aiming to understand both the nature and the timing of profound transformational change.

From that day on, I became a student of astrology. Isolating myself from others, I spent every moment I could absorbing this new reality. My new passion grew into an obsession, as I devoured every book I could find and learned how to construct charts myself.

Yet, I confess, during those initial few years I still struggled with my reason. That old, well-trained, left-brained self did not really want to believe astrology works. Struggling to quell my doubts, I would dive in further. Often I studied so hard and long that the strange symbols preoccupying me would begin to whirl round and round my brain, fusing, confusing, colliding with one another, colluding to rob me of whatever reason I had left. What am I doing? I would ask myself, then. Am I wasting my time? Is astrology nonsense after all?

My suspicions were amplified by much of what I found in the literature. Various authors’ seemingly conflicting claims as to what astrological symbols really meant; difficulties I had in either absorbing or taking seriously both the airy, spacy generalities of some authors, and the dry, detailed, statistical approach of others; not to mention how poorly written so many of the books were — all this made a good case for my skepticism.

Yet there was one author whose clear and overarching genius and humanity in conveying the hidden wisdom of astrology balanced all lesser mortals’ attempts: Dane Rudhyar. I speak for a whole generation of contemporary astrologers, when I say that this one author’s achievement, time after time, gave me the courage and the will to go on.

Each period of doubt was followed by a renewed surge of energy. My confusion, deeper and darker with each turn of the spiral, was rich and fertile; each time I pushed through it into light, and a period of renewed, more inclusive and differentiated clarity.

Begging anyone I knew even slightly for his or her birth data (date, time and place) I would set up a chart for that set of coordinates and place it next to mine. Following Mills Canons of Induction, the “Method of Sameness and Differences,” I compared each one with my own chart. Looking at myself and others through this medium, I gradually sorted myself out from others, bringing my own life into focus. Using birthcharts as mirrors reflecting off each other, I gradually learned how to translate feelings I had about a person, and about my relationship to that person, into the symbols on the pages.

Through an initial driving need to understand myself, the patterns in my life and character, I miraculously began to open up to others as well. Day after day, each time I constructed a chart I felt a surge of excitement, wonder; who will this be? Each time the symbols in their relations to one another were different than any I had so far seen. My former black and white judgments began to feel like myopic stereotyping, when compared to the extraordinary differentiation of which nature is so obviously capable. Each of us was revealed as an utterly unique individual, a species onto the self. How could I possibly ever again judge another according to my own or anyone else’s lights?

My conscious intention was to learn the language of astrology so that I could some day help others understand themselves. My unconscious motivation, however, was, first of all, to understand myself. This was the driving force. I was absorbing astrology as a byproduct of a constant, driving need to know the self. Working obsessively, I sat at my desk for as many hours a day as I could force my fiery self to focus on the tiny figures and numbers.

After one year, I began to be able to see the entire visual space of a birthchart as a picture, or gestalt, in front of my mind’s eye. After two years and three hundred birthcharts, I began to climb inside them. What were initially flat surfaces became three-dimensional living realities, which I could plumb, sometimes forever. Now I was thinking in the language, dreaming in it at night. Now, driving along the highway, or washing the breakfast dishes, I would find myself spontaneously meditating on a symbol, its relations with another, with a whole system of symbols, how they meshed, radiating synchronously, as living, pulsing beings, resounding with life, with meaning.

I knew at that point that I had crossed a threshold. I had moved from left to right brain. My increasing capacity to entertain many symbols at once, by thinking spatially, rather than linearly; my growing understanding of the multidimensional space within which symbols operated; and most profoundly, the continuously dawning recognition of the relativity of both time and space, as shown through the differing cycles of the planets and their relations to one another, spiraling outwards and inwards into worlds within worlds, where each point, when looked at up close, became a circle, a space, and each space, when seen from a great distance became a mere point — all this had moved me out of ordinary life and thought into . . . what, but what? Crossing that threshold had, once again, put me out of touch with others.

The first time, during those two years of my initial transformation while a graduate student in philosophy, I fell into and then became lost within right brain function. Now, using the astrological symbol system of astrology as a reference system, I was becoming skilled at entering that dimension at will, and operating within it for as long as I desired. I was also gaining the facility of crossing back and forth, in and out of right to left brain thinking, at will. What I could not yet do, was to integrate them together so what went on in the right brain found easy access to the world through left brain communication. Simultaneously, therefore, I was becoming both more creative and more isolated.

Thus, while it took two whole years before I began to think in the language of astrology, it took fully two more years before I could say anything that wasn’t either trivial or incomprehensible.

Meanwhile, my good father, himself a medical doctor, despairing of the “progress” of his doctor (of philosophy) daughter, asked, truly perplexed, “Why are you wasting your good brain?” In response, I could only shrug — and sigh, and later, when alone, cry. There is nothing so painful as the gap between two people who love each other when one of them changes to the point where there is no way their worlds can be even compared, much less reunited.

He wasn’t the only one. People still corner me, at parties, and ask, smiling smugly — or more rarely, with great sincerity and wonder — “why do you believe in astrology?”

“Why,” I always respond — sometimes defensively, sometimes with equal sincerity and wonder — “do you believe in English?”

Astrology is not a belief system. Astrology is a language. Like any language, astrology can be used to make true — or false — statements. Taken as a whole, however, languages are not “true” or “false.” We use them — or abuse them; we learn them or leave them alone.

To see astrology as a language, rather than as a belief system, is liberating. This way we can entertain it without having to make a decision as to its worth. Just as we do not question the truth value of the English language, so we can use the astrological language in the same way.

And yet what I say here about languages is, I admit, too simple. As Chomsky, and before him, Whorf and Sapir and even Wittgenstein have shown, all languages contain certain, usually unnoticed, metaphysical assumptions hidden within their grammatical structures. For example, those languages classed as “Indo-European,” English among them, have subject-predicate-object (S-O-P) as the basic structure of any meaningful statement. This is that. John threw the ball. God made me.

The structure of the language of the Hopi differs profoundly from ours. Interestingly enough, it has been said that if we could speak Hopi, we wouldn’t have so much trouble understanding Einstein’s relativity theory. Hopi language has no S-O-P distinction. Nor does it have separate tenses for past, present, and future. Rather than saying John threw the ball, they would say something like, “there-is-a-ball-throwing.” Subject and predicate are one, and time is eternally now.

The Hopi see through different eyes, they move through time and space in a profoundly different way than we do. Thus do different languages sometimes imply profound differences in the kinds of understanding possible for those who speak them.

What interests me, is that in the case of astrology, even those who do seem to speak the same language often have widely divergent attitudes towards it. This may imply that one’s world-view before learning the language of astrology often colors the manner in which it is interpreted.

There seem to be two primary belief-systems associated with the language of astrology. Those who know nothing about astrology — and even some who do — identify astrology with a kind of fatalism, which denies free will.

This is the belief-system wherein responsibility for one’s life is placed upon something else besides the self. Thus, some say, the “stars” (the planets) determine both who they are, and what’s going to happen to them day by day.

The fatalistic belief system is slowly giving way to another, more ancient way of appreciating the language of astrology. This other belief-system is known by a number of names, such as “occult,” “esoteric,” or “metaphysical.” (The word “occult,” by the way, simply means “hidden,” that which is not immediately obvious.) Whereas fatalism denies free will, esotericism gives it back to us — totally. Indeed, we are entirely responsible for ourselves — who we were in the past, who we are now, and who we choose to become in the future.

According to the esoteric point of view, each of us is composed of three principles: body, mind, and soul. Body and mind are mortal, they live and die. Soul is immortal, it existed before we were born, it will exist after we die . . . forever.

The esoteric belief-system assumes reincarnation, the idea that the soul lives many lives, each of them a stepping stone, the lessons it contains helping the soul in its evolution towards perfection.

Free will, within the esoteric point of view, is a function of the soul. The soul chooses the life.

The soul chooses both the moment and the place of birth, and therefore the specific physical and social environment into which one is born — including the body and mind, the parents and siblings. The soul chooses the genetic stream, i.e., the flow of qualities of all kinds that are continuous from generation to generation. (This viewpoint dispels the nature vs. nurture argument. Neither one “determines” us. We choose both; i.e., we choose to be shaped by both heredity and environment.) The soul also chooses the tendencies to health and disease, the lessons this particular life has to offer, and the talents that help one learn them.

Fatalism frequently ignores the soul. It tends to see us as puppets in a play, mechanical, with no inward direction of our own, pulled by strings external to our beings for no apparent reason.

Esotericism, on the other hand, assumes that we, as souls, are spiritual beings evolving towards perfection, through the process of first choosing, then learning, from the experiences of many earth lives. Each life is a step on that road. From this point of view, the astrological birthchart is a map of the soul: it contains, in symbolic form, both what the soul has already learned and its choices for this lifetime.

As Yogananda’s teacher in The Autobiography of a Yogi put it: “The individual is born at that exact moment when the celestial bodies are in exact mathematical harmony with the karma of that soul.”

Within fatalism, the causes of human thought, words and deeds are assumed to be external. Within esotericism, those causes are accepted as internal, a part of our own nature. Esotericism assumes that we create our own realities; it focuses on a specific inner potential that pushes for development throughout a given lifetime.

Whether one interprets astrology fatalistically or esoterically, there are three assumptions which anyone who learns the language of astrology makes which others might not commit to. The first is that the world is meaningful, i.e., that there are patterns in nature. Secondly, that these patterns are all related to one another. The first assumption is held by many scientists. The second one, pioneered, among others, by Buckminster Fuller, is being given an increasingly holistic and ecological and “harmonically resonant” coloring by a new generation of scientists.

A third assumption is still difficult for our culture to accept. This is, at first glance, surprising, since it is really only a corollary of the first two: not just earth, but the heavens are a part of nature too.

These three assumptions can be condensed into four little words: “As above, so below” — a saying attributed to the Greek Hermes Trimegistis. Or, as Jung put it in his Introduction to the Wilhelm version of the I Ching: “Whatever is born of a moment has the quality of that moment, no matter where it is.” This is known as the principle of synchronicity, and it is to be distinguished from the principle of causality which belongs to Newtonian physics and usually accompanies a fatalistic interpretation of astrology.

Astrology is a language that includes the heavens as a part of its everyday world. Astrology is stellar ecology. By studying the positions and motions of the planets, it considers the one environment we all share, no matter who we are or where we live, the sky above, turning slowly round once per day. We all see the same sky, we all live under the same universal and ever-changing planetary patterns.

Astrology maps what we all have in common. It assumes unity — and the unified force field physicists since Einstein have been seeking.

Planetary patterns look slightly different depending upon the angles from which they are viewed. As each place on earth is unique and has its own particular beauty, so too each planetary pattern is unique, when viewed from a particular point on earth.

Astrology respects diversity. It honors uniqueness — the utter individuality of every being which can be said to have been, at some point in time and space, born.

As the ancient Greeks endeavored to see the world in a way that would embrace its paradoxical nature, where everything is both of one substance and yet continuously changing, where we are simultaneously both mystically one and phenomenally unique and diverse, so too does astrology see the world.

Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic philosopher, reminded us: we never step into the same river twice. Yes, time is a river, and the banks of the river are skin to planetary orbits, channels through which time runs, giving it form and definition. Each point in the river, if stopped, and mapped, as a cross section, would give us a certain set of coordinates, the structure of that particular moment, like no other.

The study of astrology turned out to be a natural next step in my philosophical inquiry into the nature of space and time. In the essays that follow, I focus this astrological way of appreciating space and time to worlds both inside and around me. One could call what I do here “applied philosophy” — far removed from the abstract, technical talk I learned in graduate school. Academic philosophy didn’t teach me how to live in the world. A philosopher who speaks the language of astrology, however, almost automatically finds him or herself studying the living space/time context of our lives.



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4 Responses to A.K. Reader: My Journey into Astrology (1986)

  1. Kieron says:

    This is riveting. I see much of myself in this story as I struggle to understand the cosmos through astrology. One connection I hadn’t made until now is that Saturn is a profound influence on me in house placement and by aspect, and since Saturn rules time, it would explain much about my personality and about my perspective of both time and space, as well as age and aging. So thank you for enabling the connection I had missed until now.

  2. timc says:

    I was curious if you ever thought of changing the structure
    of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.

    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people
    could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for
    only having one or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

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