Fate and Karma

If you are a serious student of astrology, sooner or later you have to deal with the uncomfortable fact that, if astrology works, it demonstrates that there are a lot of aspects of our lives that are beyond our ability to influence or control, and that may be pre-destined to a greater or lesser extent.

I am writing this in mid October 2016, shortly after the ISAR astrology conference where a panel of astrologers used their tools to attempt to predict the outcome of the presidential election.

If you had an accurate ephemeris, you could have drawn up the necessary charts a thousand years ago. If the predictive techniques have validity then the outcome of the election is indeed written in the stars, and has been written there for a very long time.  (I picture a medieval astrologer drawing back from his charts with a look of horror on his face, as he divines the ascent of a weird hulking beast with a shock of bright orange blonde hair…)

Most of the astrologers that I know insist, strongly and loudly, that they believe in free will. Nothing in our lives is fated, our natal charts are nothing but potential, and it is up to us what we do with it. The whole notion that there might be circumstances or events that are predicted in your natal chart that are out of your control, is just not acceptable.

So they insist that we have free will – just a bit too loudly, and a bit too often.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Think about it – if it was so very certain that we have free will and can choose how we want our lives to go, why do so many modern astrologers spend so much time and energy insisting on our free will? If free will really was that much of a given then you wouldn’t need to keep insisting on it over and over.

On the other hand, most of the modern astrologers I know who recoil in horror at the notion of fate, have no problem with the concept of karma. The same astrologers who vehemently deny the notion of fate and insist on free will seem to have no problem with turning around and saying that, if something negative happened to you, it must have been your karma.

Let’s look a bit closer at that.

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Saturn and Qabalah

The difficulty with exploring Saturn being feminine as a possible earlier and alternate form of astrology tradition lies precisely in the fact that it is earlier and alternate, and hence we have very few surviving written references. Like the work that has been done by feminist theologians in recovering a tradition of the feminine as divine, much of the work is as much reconstruction as it is recovery.

There are very few traditional astrology texts that refer to Saturn as feminine. Besides that one sentence in Dorotheus that I talked about in my first post on the subject of Saturn as feminine, there are another handful of sentences that I am aware of, scattered here and there through the hundreds of traditional texts that have come down to us.

As far as I can tell, if you rely solely on traditional astrology texts, the traditional support for viewing Saturn as feminine is very slight. Let’s acknowledge that up front.

The historical case for Saturn as feminine is greatly strengthened if there is evidence of a spiritual tradition alive in the West that consistently associates the planet Saturn with feminine symbols, . As it turns out, there is such a spiritual tradition, related to astrology, and passed down to us along similar lines, that has a strong history of associating Saturn with feminine meanings and imagery, and we will examine just a little bit of that tradition here.

It is known as Qabalah.
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Dignity of Face

Traditional astrology uses a system of 5 levels of dignity or rulership. Modern astrology has kept only the two major dignities, rulership and exaltation, neither is emphasized very much, and both have lost much of their original significance.

The use of the minor dignities has pretty much been lost to modern astrology. Even those traditional astrologers who do use them often consider them only as having a small point value or as keeping a planet from being peregrine. The sense of the different dignities each having a distinct meaning has been pretty much lost.

I have been working extensively with the full system of major and minor dignities, and I find that even the different minor dignities each have a specific sort of nuance of meaning in terms of the role or position in society of the planet in question.

In this essay I want to look at the least of the minor dignities, that of face. I want to consider how the minor dignity of face can be interpreted in the context of a chart.

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How Canterbury would Die

Horary is the branch of astrology that deals with answering specific questions. If you do practice horary, there are different methods historically of choosing what planet represents the subject of the question being asked. That planet is called the significator.

If you follow William Lilly, the significator is the ruler of the house which matches the topic of the question- so, for instance, a question about money or possessions would be given to the 2nd house and its lord.

This approach doesn’t necessarily pay much attention to the chart as a whole, and the Ascendant and its lord has no necessary connection to the question.

Another approach would be to look at the natural significator of the topic – so for instance, in a question about a person’s mother you might consider either Venus or the Moon along with the appropriate house.

There is yet another approach that takes the Ascendant and its Lord to indicate the subject of the question regardless of topic. (Ben Dykes points out that this approach is used in Al-Kind’s influential textbook on horary, Forty Chapters.) Since the chart represents the question then the whole chart, focusing especially on the ascendant, is the focus of the question.

I want to look at an example of a chart from William Lilly’s Christian Astrology, where Lilly read the chart one way, but you could read the chart using other approaches and find the same result. It is a lovely example of multiple markers pointing to the same answer.

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Geometry and Polarity

Antagonistic or Complementary Opposites

This post is a sequel to one I did earlier this year, called The Shape of Our Thinking. I examined how the geometry of our thought affects how we view the world, how we think and act.

Since the argument of this post builds on that one I will very briefly summarize it here.

Sine wave with straight lineAstrology conceives of reality in terms of repeating cycles of growth and change – alternating opposites like light and dark, summer and winter and so on – and of ongoing cycles through time, of birth, growth, flourishing, decline, death and decay, followed in a collective sense by a rebirth, and so on.  that is represented by the sine wave.

The straight line is our modern view of reality as conforming to Progress, where we just keep going up and up, getting better and better, always moving forward. The straight line and the wave are pretty much in sync on the upward slope, but on the downward slope they increasingly diverge.  They are profoundly different models of the world, so they shape our thoughts and actions in very different ways.

Both of these two systems have various kinds of opposite concepts that structure the model – for instance,
– light / darkness
– day / night
– summer / winter
– heat / cold
– growth / decline
– youth / age
– masculine / feminine

and so on. There are other pairs of opposites, like good and evil, that have an ethical or judgemental quality.

So how do we deal with opposites?  I think it largely depends on the shape of our thinking, and in this essay I want to examine the different ways of dealing with polar opposites that go with the two shapes.

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Saturn and Pluto

Introducing the 3 modern planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, to the system of astrology, did much more than just adding 3 new members to the family.  It also drastically changed the meanings of the traditional 7 planets.

The outer planets have taken some of their meanings away from the traditional Sacred Seven planets.  In the process, the meanings of the traditional 7 have become less rich and complex, thinned down, less multi-dimensional.

Part of this thinning down of meaning comes from a modern tendency to want to streamline and conceptualize the meanings of the planets. You often see that each planet is given a single core keyword or concept as a way to grasp its meaning.  This is done even by some teachers of traditional astrology.

However, if you read the older texts, the meanings of the planets are broader, more concrete, and much, much messier – I’m tempted to call them anecdotal. For instance, instead of saying that Saturn signifies where you have fear, a traditional text would explain how Saturn is associated with graveyards, dark places, underground, the skin, the bones and teeth, old people, diseases like arthritis, the color black, winter, and so on. The meaning of Saturn is given as a set of concrete associations or specific contextual meaning, and you have to feel your way into how these different items all fit together.

Starting with concepts rather than concrete associations tends to thin out the process and the meaning.

Returning to my original point – in addition to becoming more abstract and one-dimensional, some of the meanings originally associated with the traditional planets were transferred to the modern outer planets – which led to a loss of richness of meaning.

To illustrate this, I want to look at how many of the meanings now associated with Pluto were associated with a traditional planet we don’t normally think of as similar to Pluto.

That is – Saturn.


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The Saturn Crone Project

I think this is a good time to pick up this ongoing theme on my blog, and talk about what I’m working on. I want to summarize where I’ve been on the subject of Saturn as Crone, and what direction I want to go from here.

Back in February of this year I published a blog post titled Saturn as Feminine, Part One, exploring the ramifications of viewing Saturn as feminine, based on a text from Dorotheus. I took this further in a later post where I looked at the symbolism of Saturn as the Old Wise Crone figure.

I got a very strong reaction to these posts; apparently they touch on something that is very important to people.

Since February I’ve been exchanging emails with my friends Ben Dykes and Chris Brennan on this topic, where we have been sharing discoveries we have been making. Recently Chris put a out a new episode of his Astrology Podcast on Saturn as feminine, and the likely first woman astrologer.

Here is the approach I am taking now on researching this topic.

What I am looking for is how Saturn as Crone plays out in people’s charts and in their lives. We live in an era which is re-discovering lost dimensions of the feminine as sacred, and I think the Old Wise Crone is an important part of that sacred recovery.

Here’s my thesis: If I want to go looking for evidence of Saturn as Old Crone, I should go looking in the charts of strong women who are embodying that Old Crone archetype in their own lives.

What I am finding is very powerful and interesting, and I want to share a bit of it here.

And, to take this further, I want to ask for your help.
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The Dangers of Positive Thinking

The Tyranny of Optimism

Tip of the hat here – I was moved to write the following piece after I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s marvelous book, “Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America“. It is highly recommended.

This post carries on the argument of my previous entry, named, The Shape of our Thinking, in which I looked at how the shape of our thinking affects how we function in the world.

The following graph is a visual picture of my argument.

Sine wave with straight lineBriefly, astrology conceives of reality in terms of repeating cycles of growth and change – alternating opposites like light and dark, summer and winter and so on – and of ongoing cycles through time, of birth, growth, flourishing, decline, death and decay, followed in a collective sense by a rebirth, and so on.  that is represented by the sine wave.

The straight line is our modern view of reality as conforming to Progress, where we just keep going up and up, getting better and better, always moving forward. The straight line and the wave are pretty much in sync on the upward slope, but on the downward slope they increasingly diverge.

On the downward slope, if you are used to thinking in terms of that upward straight line, you are likely to find yourself running into an increasing number of situations where things just don’t seem to be working quite the way they should.

This is where modern Positive Thinking gets us in big trouble. Continue reading

The Shape of our Thinking

Straight Lines and Cycles

One of the most wonderful ways we can learn from astrology is to study the worldview of the civilization where astrology was created. Astrology is a way of looking at the world, and it has a very different kind of perspective and shape than does our usual modern culture. We stand to a learn a lot about the weaknesses and blind spots of our modern world – and the results of those blind spots are becoming increasingly evident in the world around us.

Here I want to talk about how the world of astrology has a different shape than our modern world.

Briefly, astrology looks at the world in terms of cycles, ascending and descending waves, and complementary opposites. Cyclical, circular, wave shaped.

By contrast, our modern world thinks of reality in single direction straight lines.

Much of the world around us behaves in ways that match the shape of astrology – cycles of growth and decay, waves. Meanwhile we’re thinking in terms of straight lines.

And here’s the kicker – when the shape of our thinking mismatches the shape of the world around us we get ourselves in trouble.

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Using Essential Dignities

Much of my time over the last several months has been spent preparing for a class on Essential Dignities in astrology, that I will be teaching at Kepler college starting this coming July 10. (Here is a link to the Essential Dignities class on the Kepler site if you’re curious about it.)

Preparing for the class gave me a good excuse to spend a lot of time researching the minor dignities and how they can be used. I am finding some really exciting things, and I want to share a sample of what I am finding here.

In this essay I want to give a brief demonstration of how the traditional system of essential dignites can be used to add quite a bit of detail and nuance to the interpretation of a chart.

Traditional astrology uses five different essential dignities. There are the two major dignities, rulership and exaltation, and their corresponding debilities, detriment and fall. Modern astrology still has these dignities, although they are often not widely recognized or used.

In addition, there are three minor dignities, named triplicity, term and face. Each has a different meaning and different level of control. I want to give an example here of how they might be used.

This is the chart of Clara Barton.

Clara Barton

She is most famous as the founder of the American Red Cross, and did extensive work in field hospitals during the Civil War.  In addition to that, Clara Barton also did extensive work in public education, and also became a major spokesperson for the women’s suffrage movement.

Let’s look at the dignities for a couple of the most important planets in her chart.

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