Many years ago I used to to be a character at the Renaissance Festival. Along with entertainers of all sorts there were also tarot readers, and for people who worked in that area it was a good venue to do a lot of readings in a very short period of time. Some readers I know made a good part of their living by doing festivals like this. From my experience, these were people who were committed to their craft and tried to practice it in a useful and ethically responsible manner.
I clearly remember one day there was a man who was out at festival, who was going around among the festies and asking where the tarot reader was who had done a reading for his wife the previous weekend… it seems the reader had told the woman that her husband was cheating on her. The man said this was not true, and he was seriously angry for this reader wrecking his wife’s trust of him. He was out at the festival that day looking for revenge.
Adultery… a very dangerous subject to touch in a reading. Especially if you get it wrong. I am assuming that the reader made this statement in good faith based on what she was seeing in the cards. Assuming that man was telling the truth when he said it was false, that reading might have wrecked a marriage. That woman was looking at her husband and seeing a man who was cheating on her, and anything he said to deny it would just look to her like he was lying. Once that idea was accepted by her it became self-validating. If I were that man I’d be ready to kill that tarot reader.
Looking at the history of horary astrology, which deals with giving answers to specific situational questions, you will find texts giving the rules for telling if a person’s partner had cheated on them – there are specific planetary configurations that are markers for adultery.
If I saw that in a person’s chart, would I tell the person their spouse was likely cheating on them? – no way. I remember that man at festival who was blind angry and ready for revenge, and I pause… I value my teeth, and I don’t care to have them knocked out of my head.
I am an astrologer, and I am a tarot reader, and I have read tarot professionally. I also have training in hypnosis and persuasion, so I have a strong awareness of just how powerful suggestion can be.
The language of hypnosis, the language of tarot reading, the language of astrology – they are all pretty much the same language, the same kinds of language patterns. I personally think that training in hypnosis should be required for anyone who is going to seriously explore astrology.
It is also very worth noting that hypnotic language patterns are also very common in political rhetoric and in much of the news media. Without awareness of that it is far too common to hallucinate meaning in response to hypnotic suggestions while thinking you are just getting reporting.
Most people who are not aware of hypnosis are under the impression that they are looking out at a world and seeing what is really happening.
That is not how the world looks if you have training in hypnosis.
When people (and I include myself) look out at the world, we are hallucinating like crazy all of the time. We all have our value judgments, our ideas and beliefs as to what is right and wrong, what is real and what is not, and those judgments act as perceptual filters that organize our experience. We do not just perceive what is “out there”, we perceive a reflection of our own values and assumptions.
In hypnosis, a technical name for that is confirmation bias – Scott Adams uses that term in his book Win Bigly, which is an analysis of persuasion techniques used in the last presidential election. The human perceptual mechanism is built to look out at the world and find evidence for what it is looking for, and it tends to be self-validating. We find what we’re looking for. That tends to prove to us that our judgments must be true, which then hardens the filter so that we find even more data supporting our values, and so on.
If you are an evangelical Christian you will constantly find evidence that Satan is lurking under every stone and behind every door. If you are a certain kind of progressive feminist you will look out and see evidence that all men are predators, and you see a world of abusers and victims. If you are liberal politically you will see everything that Donald Trump says or does as evidence of his being a fascist, or racist, or mentally deranged, and so on. You find what you are looking for.
Note that, if you respond to any of those statements with rage or serious irritation and think, but wait a minute, Trump really is a fascist, or, all men really are predators, or, Satan really is trying to take over the world and you are blind to His evil schemes… that reaction of rage is a sign that you are bumping up against your own personal perceptual filter. It is a wake-up call.
In Scott Adams’ very telling observation – Confirmation bias is not an occasional bug in the human operating system, it is the human operating system. We all do it, all of the time. Hypnosis training helps to wake you up and make you aware of that.
Another example of confirmation bias – in general, Trump’s inaugural speech in early 2017 was poorly received among Democrats, and there were comments on how bleak and depressing it was, how biased, how it focused on what was wrong with the country. One of the people on Scott Adams’ Twitter list mentioned that he sent a transcript of Trump’s speech to a Democratic friend and told them it was Obama’s second inaugural… and they loved it. Same words, same speech – and when they thought it was from Obama it was wonderful and uplifting, from Trump it was critical and depressing. That is confirmation bias.
Robert Anton Wilson calls a person’s filters their Reality Tunnel. We are all walking around in our own private Reality Tunnels, with our own personal value judgments and perceptual filters, all hallucinating like crazy, looking out at the world and finding what we are looking for – and looking at other people and thinking they must be out of their minds when they don’t see what we do.
I think this is also what is meant by the much-misunderstood statement that you create your own reality according to your beliefs.
If you want to get an experiential sense of what I am talking about here, a very good exercise is to try reading a variety of news sources on the internet that have widely varying views. I’ve gotten in the habit of checking out mainstream liberal sites, and conservative sites, and sites that are libertarian, and radical – the more varied the better.
I’m not looking at these sites to figure out which is right and which is wrong, which I agree with and which I disagree with. When I enter one of the sites I try to drop my own particular perceptual bias and try to look at the world through their eyes. I try to take on their worldview, and understand what they are perceiving and experiencing.
It is a very sobering experience. If you do it right, you can sometimes get a glimpse of your own personal perceptual filters, how your values are shaping the news you take in. If you have only been taking your news from a single kind of source – which I had, for a long time – there is a creepy chill of recognition when you go back to your home news source and see the bias built in there, see how it shapes the news by what it focuses on, what it includes, and what it leaves out.
Something else very scary can happen – you can end up changing your mind…
(See the book Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson for more exercises like this on getting outside the limitations of your own private reality tunnel.)
As I mentioned earlier, a sign that you are bumping up against your own personal perceptual filter is a reaction of rage and irritation, the desire to lash out and attack the person as obviously wrong, the urge to swear and dismiss them contemptuously. When you find yourself reacting that way, you might want to stop, back up, and re-examine the statement that set you off… and consider that maybe, just maybe, your own judgment is not the only true one… and maybe, just maybe, that other person may be perceiving something that you are not.
That exercise takes work, and mental effort. You are deliberately trying to see the world through a different set of filters. Once you start to do that, it is very, very hard to stay convinced that your opinions are Right and everyone who disagrees with you is mentally deranged and Wrong.
There is no one reality out there, and we all see the world through our own set of perceptual filters. That is a very sobering realization.
When I go back and forth between liberal and conservative news sites, instead of seeing one as obviously Right and Fact Based and the other as obviously Wrong and Biased and Lying – I see both sides convinced they have the truth, both sides convinced they are seeing things as they Really Are. By now, with any given news story, I can often predict how the different news sites will cover it – or ignore it – based on what I know of their bias.
It makes me really wonder, and really question my own opinions… just maybe I’m not right all the time… just maybe I don’t have all the facts… just maybe that other point of view might be seeing something valuable that I am missing by filtering it out.
Notice the difference between these two statements.
One – Donald Trump is a fascist. If you disagree you’re wrong.
Two – My perception is that what Donald Trump says and does seems fascist to me. You may see things differently.
Do you see the big difference in worlds between those statements? Can you see how much different our political discourse would be if we spoke in terms of the second statement rather than the first?
Now I want to tie this back to practicing astrology.
Astrology is a symbolic language and its symbols are multi-valent, they do not have a single set meaning or interpretation. We will all tend to read the symbols of astrology based on our own experience, our own personal values, our own personal perceptual filters. There is no way around that.
There is no one correct way to interpret a chart. There is no one correct meaning of the symbols in the chart.
As an astrologer, when I interpret a chart for a person I try to enter their world, get a sense of what their perceptions are, what the world looks like from their point of view. Imaginatively I try to look at the world through their eyes and get a sense of what are their values, what are their filters – and then I correlate that with what I am seeing in their chart.
My job is to interpret the chart based on their values, not mine. My job is also to interpret the chart in a way that raises the person’s level of awareness.
When I consider what kinds of interpretation I offer, I am asking myself questions like this.
Does what I am saying tend to give the person more choice, more power.
Does it match the values they have and does it help them to attain those values.
Does it it give them more choice, more freedom, more happiness.
And, most importantly, does what I am saying help the person to become more aware of what kinds of value judgments they are making,
Without that awareness I think that you are trapped in a set of value judgments you make about the world, value judgments that you take as reality or truth, rather than a choice of meaning. Awareness gives choice.
This does not mean that my readings are always “positive” – not by a long shot. The freest and widest sorts of reality tunnels are those that have room for all of the extremes, things that go well and things that go badly wrong, places of control and places where things are out of control, places of awareness and blind spots – ways of looking at the world that help people deal with the full gamut of human experience.
I have what I think of as a meta-value system, an inclusive set of values that tries to respect and allow for multiple ways of viewing the world. I value freedom, I value awareness, I value toleration, I value inclusiveness and I value choice. I also value self-responsibility – I assume that blaming others for your problems is a good way to rob yourself of your power, and I assume that taking responsibility for what happens to you is the best path to a rich, satisfying and happy life.
So, with the interpretations I offer in my astrology practice, I try to offer a framework that helps people make sense of their lives based on their own values, and that gives them the greatest sense of meaning and value. Sometimes this involves taking control, sometimes this involves just accepting things that are out of control. Either way I try to offer a way to make more conscious and aware choices of how to deal with their life situation.
I also watch what I am saying to see how potentially helpful or harmful it can be. (Remember that tarot reader…) I know from experience that people give an enormous amount of weight to what astrologers and readers say, so I very carefully consider how I am helping to shape this person’s reality.
When I do it right, I feel that I have helped to enhance the value and quality of that person’s experience, and helped to give them a meaningful way to deal with their current life challenges.
Is it difficult? Gods, yes. Is it a risky business? I think so. Is it worth doing? I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if I wasn’t convinced it was. Astrology can be a very useful system for helping to make sense of your world, and how you fit within the cosmos.
I think astrology can help people Wake Up – and I think that is as close to a statement of my purpose as I can get.
(The picture of the eye used in this post is by Galata Maria Grazia and is from Wikimedia Commons.)