This is the second post that considers the symbolic language of Astrology as one of my Ten Tools for Transformation. If you haven’t read Chapter Eight: I yet, please do so first. It concerns how I found myself forced to transform my thoroughly indoctrinated “scientific” world-view in order to actually grab hold of this strange new passion that held me in its grip, despite strong, persistant ambivalence.
I wanted to understand myself, my own nature. Would astrology hold the key?
Chapter Nine gets into the nitty gritty of how I actually did set about learning astrology. Not through classes, and very little through books. Instead, as you shall see, I relied primarily on actually correlating and interpreting, over and over again, Inside to Outside, reflecting, in great detail, on both memories and current experiences down here Below with changing planetary configurations up there Above. A breathtaking adventure, not for the faint-hearted.
Of course I was alone in this adventure, and subjected, in the early ’70s, to intense social ridicule. Luckily, just in the nick of time, the Teacher appeared, and his direct, clear-eyed answer to my single plaintive question was all I needed to go full bore ahead.
ASTROLOGY II: How I Learned Astrology
The meaning of a planet is its cycle. I didn’t understand the profound significance of this deceptively simple statement until I had been studying astrology for several years. And because I hadn’t grokked this central idea, my learning was piecemeal and confused; I couldn’t sense astrology’s overall design, nor how that design correlated with my life.
I will return to this central idea, and to the larger astrological world-view this idea generated within me. But first, I want to sketch in how I actually went about learning astrology, as I think it holds clues to how we learn anything that resonates strongly within our essential selves.
When something really matters to us, we are guided from within as to how to learn it. At first the experience is of a vague twinge of dissatisfaction, an emptiness, or hunger, something the usual food does not satisfy. We may try many things to assuage the hunger, and none of them work. It remains, and it grows, becoming more and more demanding. Our attention begins to subtly point itself in a certain direction. If we are consciously noticing the hunger, and acknowledge it, then we follow the direction to which our attention points — no matter how foreign it may be to our usual concerns. It’s as if the soul whispers in our inner ear, Pay Attention!— and then it drops clues! When we stop to think about it, these clues are really miracles, sudden shocking intrusions of a higher dimension into this third-dimensional world. We are in a bookstore, and a book jumps out from the shelf. A seemingly chance remark repeats what was said in a dream the night before. One thing leads to another. We become a student, and exactly the right teacher appears . . .
I had been following the trail of synchronicity since I was 26 years old, picking up on clue after clue. Even so, it took me three whole years of study to finally penetrate to the core of astrology. This is no surprise. Even the remnant of ancient astrology with which we are familiar today is astonishingly complex, requiring unusual dedication on the part of the student. Compounding the difficulty is the flack we take from others when we start to study it!
There is what I call an “unconscious conspiracy” in this culture against astrology. Mention the word “astrology” and there is an inevitable knee-jerk reaction. One can just see the alarms go off in the listener’s head! “Whoops, she’s gone off the deep end! Now we’re talking “quackery (nonsense)” or “voodoo (forbidden magical power)” — or both. Usually both! How could it be both? How could astrology be both nothing and way too much?
Newspaper and magazine columns on sun-sign astrology are the chief weapons in this ongoing conspiracy; they trivialize astrology, treating it as a harmless superstition, a silly but humerous way of pretending to know ahead of time what is around the corner. And yet, how many millions of people open the newspaper first to their “daily horoscope”? And although they may laugh, and treat it lightly, we humans are fascinated by the idea of connecting up our own little lives on Earth to a larger order.
For those, like me, who want to deepen their understanding of astrology, we face not only the culture’s dismissal, but our own conditioning as to how learning takes place. To learn something, we assume, is to read books on the subject, or take classes. In 1974, most books on astrology were what we now call “recipe books,” dealing with the different possible meanings of planets when placed in various signs. E.g. Mars in Pisces means X whereas Mars in Sagittarius means Y (and at times different authors would come up with Xs and Ys that contradicted each other). The one real exception to this static view of planets was the work of Dane Rudyhar. For him, the idea that the meaning of a planet is its cycle was a basic assumption implied in everything he ever wrote. I don’t recall him ever stating this assumption outright, but it was there, underneath everything he ever said. The result was his unusual orientation to the processof how planets work in astrology.
I devoured Dane Rudyhar; I read some of the recipe books too, and, most important, despite my early learned fear of mathematics, I managed to learn how to set up charts. The process of figuring out each chart turned into a contemplative ritual. One by one, I would work through the formulas for finding the exact positions for each planet at a certain time in the sky for a certain place on earth. As I placed each planet in its proper degree of the circle, the unique and mysterious geometrical pattern that lay at the heart of each person’s life would emerge, bit by bit.
This process of manually setting up charts slowed me down, made me work for every little piece of information; the result was a continuous sense of anticipation, which brought me into my feelings, so that my larger being could gradually incorporate what my mind was perceiving.
How different was this way of learning astrology from today, when computer programs spit out instant charts! As a result, there are a lot of instant astrologers, who are going to have to find new rituals for slowing themselves down enough to pay full attention to one symbol at a time. We do not thoroughly incorporate anything of value by instantly accessing millions of bits of data.
Over that first two-year period I set up birth charts for around 300 people (begging them for their birth data, which they would humor me by giving). Placing their charts next to my own, I would focus on the similarities and differences between the two maps, correlating those findings with the similarities and differences I noticed between us as persons. I was learning astrology partly through this analytic method of compare and contrast (in philosophy, we called this “Mills Canons of Induction”).
And I was learning astrology by paying attention to the ephemeris, watching the planets go through their daily motions through the heavens, noting when they crossed over the positions of planets in my birthchart, and correlating these crossings with events in my life.
Underneath, what was driving me all along was the need to know: Who am I? What is my path? How could I have been fired from the job for which I had been preparing all my life? What did it mean? What now? What next? Could astrology help me to find out?
Like any scientist, I was, in the beginning, using left-brained tools to translate my own psychological understanding of people into the foreign language of astrology. As time went on, my right brain began to take over. At night, I would find myself dreaming about a particular astrological symbol. During the day, washing dishes or standing in line to buy groceries, I would suddenly wake up, realize that I had been elsewhere, meditating on a symbol.
Astrology was subtly seeping into me, despite my periodic resistance, and despite the ridicule I received from the culture for studying it. (By this time I had moved back to my Idaho hometown to marry Dick, my high school boyfriend and second husband). Though my conditioned, elitist, academic self kept scoffing, I could not stop. I had become obsessed.
Learning and Obsession
It is this element of obsession which, to my mind, separates those who are “dabbling in astrology” from serious students. Like any potentially life-transforming subject, astrology requires at least a modicum of obsession from those who seek its wisdom. It reminds me of what is called “transference” in therapy, whereby the person seeking help “falls in love” with the therapist. To learn is to love. There is no way around it. We fall into whatever we seek to absorb. Longing for union, we offer ourselves up to that which fascinates.
No matter how many bits and pieces I picked up analytically (Taurus people are X, Scorpio people are Y, etc.) I had to completely surrender to astrology, to become one with the planets, their cycles, and their interactions through time. Once again, I had to descend into the collective unconscious. Whereas the first descent had come about as the result of deconstructing my scientific world view, during the second descent I discovered astrology, its mysterious, millennial hold on the human psyche.
I remember the day when it dawned on me that I was actually meditating on the symbol of the planetary energy (and cycle) known as “Jupiter.” Automatically, without conscious intent, and as a result of thinking about Jupiter in my own chart, how that compared with the way Jupiter seemed to work in charts of my friends and with the transits of Jupiter as shown through the ephemeris, I noticed that I was actually beginning to resonate with an “energy,” the energy of Jupiter! I was beginning to entrain to a certain frequency, to inhabit a certain space, or sphere, the dimension of awareness known as “Jupiter.” I was beginning to know Jupiter the way I had known Wittgenstein.
To Learn Is To Change
I was learning astrology, not through “being filled up with ideas,” but truly learning, by surrendering to the unknown. Once again, as with Wittgenstein, I was beginning to embody Neitszche’s aphoristic dictim: “To learn is to change.” I had fallen in love with astrology, surrendered to it, and it was transforming the way my mind worked. My training had been academic, filling up with others’ ideas, thinking analytically with left brain only. When I met Wittgenstein something happened to me. I could not keep up the pretense of detachment. In sensing the feeling behind his words I had slipped, sometimes, into a mysterious, dreamy, or mystical right-brained space. Now, in order to learn astrology, I was gradually and unconsciously learning to use that space as a container for everything else I was learning. In fact, I found myself internally stretching to see/feel the space/time whole of each planet as an immense sphere. I did this experientially, by sensing how the space of that sphere was being carved out through time in my real life. Each of these spheres lived in myself, I was realizing, as a certain dimension of awareness.
The Third Epiphany
It was not until 1978, four years after the first and second epiphanies, that I was blown wide open by the third one. In the first, I had been struck by the pattern created by the colored lines in a chart on a bookstore wall, and discovered that it represented angular geometric relationships among the planets.
In the second epiphany I had been sitting at the kitchen table, “idly” leafing through the ephemeris, when I “happened” to look up the planets for 1970 and was both shocked and relieved to discover the correlation between that year when I investigated my assumptions and the transits of the outer planets over the original positions of personal planets in my birth chart.
The setting for the third epiphany was my red velvet rocker in Idaho. By this time I was divorced from my second husband, living alone, and sitting there, staring at the fire in the fireplace, when the gestalt I had been unconsciously reaching for finally clicked into place. It was this: The closing of a circle or cycle is the emotional and mental foundation for a sense of completion or wholeness.Furthermore: This physical and emotional sense of completion or wholeness is what generates the mental and spiritual experience of something as truly purposeful or meaningful.By connecting these insights to planetary cycles, and through paying attention to both the felt sense of satisfaction within my own body as well as the eureka thrill within my mind and spirit, I had discovered for myself one way to link life on earth with heaven above. The “as above,” to the “so below.” The “as within” to the “so without.” This was the mystic dictum said to be originally ascribed to the ancient Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus; I had rediscovered it by paying attention to my own experience as it unfolded through time.
Let me articulate this epiphany in another way — as it is so simple, too simple, really, for some; they might think it simple-minded until they truly grok that this simple idea might be what lies at the bottom of the sense of meaning in our lives, that, at least for me, without it life actually loses meaning . . .
Once again: only as we complete a cycle, do we begin to see it as a whole. At the close of a cycle, we can gather perspective on the entire time/space of that particular cycle. This indeed, is the process (long or short) that makes possible the “Aha!” experience — that moment when something which has been eluding us clicks into place: finally, we can see it whole, as it really is. Each cycle, once completed, can be fully seen and felt and it leaves, as a residue, that felt sense of fullness or satisfaction which comprehending its meaning generates.
What I am saying is this: the peculiar malaise of our age, the loss of meaning in our lives, on deep sociological, psychological and epistemological levels, may be equivalent to our loss of a conscious appreciation of the cyclical nature of time.
When the Student Is Ready
Within a few weeks of this third epiphany, an older woman with whom I was slightly acquainted phoned to offer me a scholarship to a weekend workshop with Joseph Campbell. Picture how unlikely this scenario: in a small town in the middle of the vast desert of southcentral Idaho, a workshop for ten people with the renowned mythologist, Joseph Campbell! Out of the blue, I am invited, by a woman I barely know, to participate at no cost.
This student was ready, and her teacher appeared. I just had to ride my bike a few miles out to the farmhouse where the workshop was to be held.
During that marvelous two-day period, I was able to speak with Campbell alone for a few minutes, hoping that he knew astrology, because I wanted to ask him what he thought about my new insight. He was on familiar terms with astrology, he told me, somberly. I sensed a great respect for the field in his voice, which encouraged me to go further: “What do you think about this idea?” I asked, “that the meaning of a planet is its cycle”?
I had been studying astrology for over three years. Alone. Both ashamed of myself for obsessing on “such nonsense” and defiant in the face of others’ ridicule. My continuing ambivalence was distracting attention from the full commitment needed to thoroughly absorb this ancient language. I had just encountered the single idea that would transform my entire world-view, my “weltanschauung.” Yet, because I was still skeptical, I needed a mirror. Campbell “happened” to be in town, and I “happened” to be invited to attend his workshop. Another synchronicity. Another miracle. My higher self called him to me, and he came.
In moments like these, when, in hindsight, I glimpse yet another shining, gossamer web linking events, I feel my heart burst with gratitude.
When I asked him my question, he paused, and then replied, with immense seriousness: “I have never heard of this idea. It is very profound.”
Needless to say, never again did I need assurance that astrology was a subject worth pursuing.