Monthly Archives: December 2008

The lazy reviewer confesses….

….that I haven’t quite got around to writing that book review I promised for December!

Today could have been the day, but after the hectic excitement and rush towards Christmas and the inertia following, my husband Ian and I took some time out on this beautifully sunny, frosty, slightly hazy day, to go walking around the Isle of Cumbrae.

Cumbrae is a small island some fifteen miles in circumference, a quarter hour’s ferry ride across from the coastal town of Largs which lies an hour’s scenic drive from where we live in Glasgow in Scotland.

It was a beautiful afternoon – walking in crisp, cold air, enjoying hazy sea and coastal views, the curlews’ cries and the honking throaty calls of migrating wild geese. Carpe diem! We all need moments of peace and retreat from the challenges of our personal and collective lives – I do hope you readers have also been able to have some contemplative space as this year ends.

In the meantime, let me direct you to the Personal Book Reviews page, where there is   a recently published review to enjoy until I post a new book review come January 2009.  I returned to this spiritual journey classic over and over again in my long sojourn in the Underworld of loss of energy and extreme fragility. It never failed to offer me comfort, strength of spirit, hope and inspiration.

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

How the heart grows wise on the spiritual path

by Jack Kornfield

How’s this for an image of unity and diversity ? “While helicopter gunships flew by and (the Vietnam) war raged around them, Buddha and Jesus stood there like brothers….their arms around each other’s shoulders, smiling….”

In his first best-selling book on meditation “A Path with Heart”, American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield describes the powerful impact of his first sight of two massive sixty-foot tall statues of the Buddha and Jesus on a small island of the Mekong Delta. “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” is its worthy and equally inspiring successor.

Now read on!……

Personal Book Reviews

An Astrologer at Work: Part Three

(This is an edited version of a longer interview, published in Connections magazine,
Scotland, UK  in February 1996. It appears on the website in three parts – click An Astrologer at Work
to read the first two installments.)

extract from Part One….” The purpose of the “Not the Astrology Column” theme on this website is to introduce open-minded readers to the in-depth astrology which lies behind the entertainment facade offered by the Sun Sign columns. We are living in a time where awareness of the ‘interconnectedness of all things’ is fast returning to the forefront of public consciousness across the world. The evidence is piling up increasingly starkly: what happens in one part of our biosphere impacts everywhere.

The ancient maxim ‘As above, so below‘ has thus never seemed more relevant. The art and practice of astrology has been based on that maxim for at least six thousand years. Astrology links what happens in the individual and collective lives of human beings to the movement of the planets through the solar system of which we are part….”

Now read on!

The Principles and Practice of Astrology

“Connections” Editor Ian Holland interviews Anne Whitaker

Part Three:

AW: One of the many fascinations of astrology is how it shows the ever-changing patterns of the planets symbolically reflecting different kinds of energies in our collective life. If you as an individual are strongly plugged into collective patterns – which you can assess through comparing the natal horoscope with prevailing planetary positions in the here-and-now – it seems as if you are given a wee chip of the current pattern to work with in your individual life.  Let me give a specific example. From the end of 1992 until the beginning of 1995 there was a particularly difficult combination of planets, which  when it shows up tends to symbolise warring, destructive energies at work in our world. I’m talking about the Saturn/Pluto combination.

Every time these planets have connected this century the collective context has been war – they were linked at the start of World War 1, then at the end of the Second World War  when we were confronted with the horrors of the two holocausts, Nazi and nuclear. This combination formed a key part of the planetary backdrop to the Arab/Israeli war (the State of Israel was born under the Saturn/Pluto conjunction of  1947/48) in the Sixties; the Falklands war in the Eighties; and 1992 saw the upsurge of the Balkan War. Over the following two years we saw in Europe a fierce and brutal period of terrible carnage – as well as genocide in Ruanda and various other horrors at different locations.

(2008 update: the atrocity of 9/11 took place during the subsequent major Saturn/Pluto combination in the autumn of 2001)

From 1992 to early 1995, I observed individuals, whose horoscopes showed them to be strongly plugged into this pattern, going through deeper and darker traumas in their personal lives, much of it involving family fate issues, than I had ever seen before. Because my own horoscope involved this pattern, I had to go through some very painful and difficult times regarding my own family of origin. It seems to me that I drew to me, as a practitioner, clients plugged into the same overall pattern as myself.

Thus I was aware of having to struggle hard to keep a balance between compassionate feeling and dispassionate judgement during this period – the danger of projecting my own experience was high. But at least I was aware of that fact. This is an illustration of how astrologers need both professional supervision and, when appropriate, personal therapy to ensure that they are fully aware of their own issues and avoid as far as possible projecting them into their astrological work.

You know the Shakespearean quote – ‘there is a tide in the affairs of men’…..if you practice astrology often enough, and for long enough, you can see the tides of history, the changing patterns of the times, running through the lives of individuals whose charts you read. It’s fascinating…and awesome.

IH : you were telling me earlier that on the 16 Feb 1997  there’s something pretty spectacular coming up for us all ?

AW : (laughs) Yes! There is no doubt in my mind that astrologers can look at the unfolding pattern of energies through spacetime, cut a section through any point or moment  of the past, present or future, look at what the essence of that moment is, and speculate regarding what some of the branches manifesting in the wider world, or in individuals lives, may be.

What they can’t do is see how they’re going to manifest exactly.  Our track record on hindsight is much better than it is on foresight, historically!

There have been some spectacularly accurate predictions made by astrologers in the public realm over the centuries; a famous one was made by Luc Gauricus in 1555 to the effect that King Henri the Second of France ( then aged 37)  was in danger of death in his 42nd year, by a head injury incurred in single combat in an enclosed space. And five years later Henri duly died of a lance splinter which entered his eyes and pierced his brain.

Mediaeval Knights Jousting

Mediaeval Knights Jousting

There have also been some spectacular failures, eg to predict that the Munich agreement of 1938 would lead to World War Two.

We do much better at describing the essence of a pattern – identifying the exact branches is much more hit and miss. Personally this cheers me, since it appears to suggest a  creative balance between fate and free will in the universe – chaos theory in contemporary physics also has strong parallels with the astrological paradigm. Not everything  is pinned down  – both the language of astrology and the language of contemporary physics tells us that!

So you can perhaps see that I am very hesitant about both the accuracy of prediction and the wisdom of doing it at all, especially for individuals, in any more than a “describing the core and speculating about the branches” kind of way. Predicting that a specific branch WILL manifest, in my opinion closes down options rather than opening them up, also taking us into the realm of self-fulfilling prophecy….

But there are some very interesting patterns coming up, including the one you referred to a moment ago. So perhaps we can have some fun as we move to the close of this interview by playing with some possibilities !

In Feb 1997 the planet Jupiter, which  concerns expansion, growth, development and opportunity, meets Uranus which symbolises the urge to break through to new levels of experience. Of the 360 degrees of the zodiac, the exact conjunction takes place at 6 degrees of Aquarius from 15 to 17 of February.

What that should mean collectively is some kind of major step forward being announced in human development and awareness at that time. Jupiter/Uranus in Aquarius is a combination which has a strong feeling of technological  & scientific breakthrough about it. Here are some examples:

The first powered aeroplane flight on 17 Dec 1903 took place in Carolina, USA. There was a significant link between those two planets then. On the day of the moon landing in July 1969, there was an exact conjunction between those two planets. What we might expect is something which takes us boldly where humanity has not gone before. ……

What I’d urge your readers to do is keep an eye on the news around that time. And to further tantalise and tease everybody, I want to give a special message to people who were born when the sun was at 6 degrees of Aquarius in any year – ie those of you whose birthday is 25, 26, or 27 January – this applies to every year. All those people  should experience, in a variety of different ways, the same essential unusual, unexpected opening-out and development in their life’s path. Something quite out of the ordinary !

I would like people born on those days, whatever their age, to get in touch with me with their DATE, PLACE and TIME of birth, which I will then log into my computer. They could then contact me after  the 15-17 February 1997 and let me know how it was for them! If I get sufficient feedback I will write it up, anonymously, as a research project.

IH :  Great! I’m sure our readers will be only too glad to oblige.

(2008 update: The major event occurring a few days after the exact conjunction was the announcement to the world of a truly boldly-going scientific achievement – the creation of  Dolly the Sheep, the world’s first cloned animal, by a team of Scottish scientists led by Dr Ian Wilmut. Read all about this, and other exciting developments around the same time, in Anne Whitaker’s book on the Jupiter Uranus conjunction of 1997.

The book, including the researched experiences of 17 people who participated in the project, is now published (April 2009) as “ Jupiter meets Uranus : from erotic bathing to star gazing” by theAmerican Federation of Astrologers. If you would like to read a brief summary of its content in the meantime, click on BOOKS where the back page blurb is displayed.)

1500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Holy Dharma with Heron

I love herons. Their elegance: long, lean, streamlined curves over water, poised, waiting. Their focus: totally in the moment, poised, waiting….to strike sharp and swift. I love their languid flight: long wings lazily beating, slow concentrated strength and grace.

We live in Glasgow, Scotland – UK city with the most green space. Our flat overlooks the river Kelvin which flows through the West End’s Botanic Gardens. On the riverbank, throughout the Gardens, all kinds of wildlife abound: amongst the over-fed pigeons and importunate grey squirrels the occasional kingfisher, an otter once seen on Boxing Day, sometimes a cormorant or two – and several herons taking up favourite positions along the river bank. The fish ladder by the weir is a choice spot of theirs. Another pitch is partly concealed by vegetation, right below the Humpbacked Bridge leading to steep steps rising to the upper, more cultivated part of the Botanic Gardens.

Most days, I take a well-travelled route down from our house – crossing the Humpbacked Bridge, up the steps, through the Botanics past the newly-refurbished Kibble Palace. This splendid circular, domed Victorian glass house hosts fine sculptures, elegant glass panels, a well-stocked pond – with some very old fishy friends adept at dodging the coins and wishes raining down on them on a regular basis – and a wonderfully displayed selection of plants and flowers from many parts of the world. It is a local jewel.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron


Strolling around those familiar, well-loved landmarks, I always enjoy occasional sightings of the heron. We can never decide how many herons there are of the same age and appearance. Maybe we are seeing the same one, over and over? Conversations like this weave together a very disparate, loose group of park regulars of all ages with a variety of views and opinions about the Botanic Gardens’ wild creatures. But the heron is a favourite; we always report sightings to one another.

We are inured to plentiful rain and bad weather as the default position for our local climate; stepping out into a pleasant, crisp, sunny morning  is therefore an immediate delight, especially with the Botanics in full autumn colours, carpets of leaves everywhere – if you get out early enough, before the park attendants with their noisy leaf-blowing machines get going!

Whilst appreciating this beautiful autumnal morning, my head was also full of the usual thought traffic as I contemplated the day ahead. The Buddhists speak the truth: we are only ever partly here. In each waking moment of our short, precious lives, we are usually distracted by something or other from being fully present. Thus we rarely savour fully the Holy Dharma of this very moment which will never come again.

Suddenly, my attention was totally focused on a sight I had never seen before. The heron was perched in full view, half way along the left-hand side of the Humpbacked Bridge!

I  stopped dead. Most unusually at half past nine on a weekday morning, there was no-one in sight.  “Should I stay watching right here, or try to creep closer?” I wondered, full of excitement and apprehension. Deciding on the latter option, I tiptoed very very slowly onto the eight-foot wide bridge, veering to the right in order to edge along the opposite side of the bridge to the heron.

The wild creature seemed absorbed in his own surveillance operation, long elegant neck moving slowly from side to side, eyes glinting in the morning light reflected off the quietly flowing river. Whether he had spotted me or not, he was paying me no attention. Barely able to believe my luck, I inched along  extremely quietly until – to my great amazement – I was level. We were only a bridge width apart. Never in my life before had I been so close to such a large wild bird.

The morning was still. The heron, briefly, was still. I was still. The Holy Dharma moved with the air currents across the bridge, the heron and me. All was One.

Japanese Heron Painting

Japanese Heron Painting

Hours might have passed. It was probably less than a minute. I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my left eye. A slender young man dressed all in black, carrying a rucksack, i-pods in his ears, was rapidly approaching the bridge. Stealthily, I crept forward a couple of feet, heading off the bridge toward the steps, still hugging the side opposite the heron. He still didn’t budge. For a fleeting moment I thought “Anne, that wild creature is tuned to you. He can feel your goodwill….” Then the rationalist dismissed such a thought. Still….

The young man was about to step through the gate onto the bridge. I held my finger to my lips, indicating silence; with my other hand palm up,  I signalled to stop, waving him over to my side of the bridge – hoping this unknown young man might share a rare experience. But he ignored me. As he marched past us the heron took off, winging his lazy languid way downriver. Waving goodbye, I stood for a moment – partly watching the heron, partly watching the young man’s back as he tramped up the stairs.

In that moment I truly felt the force of life’s duality: on the one hand, such gratitude and joy that the heron and I had shared a pure, holy moment of Oneness. On the other, deep sadness that the young man, shut in with his technology, had missed it. Carl Jung’s comment, which comes to me often, came to me then: “Our task in this life is to reconcile the opposites”…..

….and a ps to this story….a couple of weeks later, I was strolling home through the Botanics by the river Kelvin on my way home, having spent the afternoon at my office writing the first draft of this article which was in my bag.There on the riverbank, in  places where I had never seen them before, were – to my amazement and delight – two herons….

1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

An astrologer at work: Part Two

(This is an edited version of a longer interview, published in Connections magazine,
Scotland, UK  in February 1996. It appears on the website in three parts – click An astrologer at work: Part One to read the first part.)

extract from Part One….” The purpose of the “Not the Astrology Column” theme on this website is to introduce open-minded readers to the in-depth astrology which lies behind the entertainment facade offered by the Sun Sign columns. We are living in a time where awareness of the ‘interconnectedness of all things’ is fast returning to the forefront of public consciousness across the world. The evidence is piling up increasingly starkly: what happens in one part of our biosphere impacts everywhere.

The ancient maxim ‘As above, so below‘ has thus never seemed more relevant. The art and practice of astrology has been based on that maxim for at least six thousand years. Astrology links what happens in the individual and collective lives of human beings to the movement of the planets through the solar system of which we are part….”

Now read on!

The Principles and Practice of Astrology

“Connections” Editor Ian Holland interviews Anne Whitaker

Part Two:

IH: A series of interviews were  done with members of the public who came to our last Alternative Health exhibition, asking them their views on New Age matters, and whether they had any negative comments. The main criticism was of the relentlessly positive way of putting things which new age practitioners tended to adopt. Telling someone who has been through absolute tragedy that this is perhaps something that was meant to happen, and presented an opportunity to grow….I feel that attitude shows great insensitivity to a person devastated by brutal experience.

AW: I would entirely agree with you here. I think that life has always been a difficult process for everybody, and as far as anyone knows it will probably continue to be so. I have now had my fair share of experience of people coming to me who have had terrible trauma, and I think that it’s extremely disrespectful, insensitive and glib to tell somebody who is in pieces that this is a learning and a growing experience. I don’t think that I have the right to say that. And I certainly wouldn’t say it.

However, if they were trying to grope for some sense of meaning and understanding in order to cope better, then I would very gently and tentatively attempt to help them to do that. But it is not my job to tell people how they should receive their personal experience. And I’ve been through sufficient personal and family tragedy of my own to respect people’s struggle to come to terms with life’s brutalities in THEIR way.

IH: I was reading a book a while back on medical astrology . Can you predict physical illnesses or ailments that a person may be subject to ?

AW: I think it’s enormously important to work within my levels of  competence. If anyone ever contacts me specifically re health advice, I always refer them on to my colleague who is a recognised authority in this field. What I would do, since I consider myself absolutely no expert in medical matters, is to confine my comments to areas I feel confident enough to comment on.

You can tell for example when a person is temperamentally quite highly strung, and likely to express their nervous tension in physical ways – and advise them to take up things like meditation, or yoga, to help relax them.

Mythological Saturn/ Saturn's Symbol

Mythological Saturn/ Saturn's Symbol

The planet Saturn is particularly connected, in physical manifestations of its symbolism, to bones and skin ( what holds us up, and what holds us in! ) –  if this planet is prominently placed in the horoscope, especially close to the Rising Sign, and has tense rather than flowing links with other planets, this is a pretty clear indicator of a predisposition to skin and/or bone problems as a way of expressing held-in fear, anger or frustration. Since a progressed horoscope can provide specific timings, it is very helpful for individuals prone to such difficulties to be alerted to periods when these problems might be more likely to manifest than others. Thus they can take some kind of prophylactic action through physical and or emotional work in advance – or during the time period where their horoscope indicated them to be at risk.

It is important for astrologers to have confidence in their own competence,  otherwise they are not going to do a good job for their clients. But it’s also important for them to be honest and clear about their own limitations, especially in areas like health.

IH: Where do you think that these predispositions indicated in the Birth Chart come from ? Is it an accident of birth, or….

AW : I think we’re back here to the fate/free will question. As I said earlier, the symbolic map of our point of entry into this world powerfully suggests that we bring in certain qualities and themes, from family inheritance perhaps, to be lived out and hopefully worked with. But at the heart of the question regarding the primary origin of what we bring in, lies a great mystery. Perhaps only the Deity can answer that question….

IH : Are we into the past life issue as well ?

AW : I prefer not to comment on the past life issue – although I’m interested in it, and I’ve had some experiences which I can only usefully explain to myself in terms of reincarnation, being a pragmatist I consider that my job is to live this present life as well as I can….so if someone wants to have this kind of astrological discussion specifically rather than tangentially, I will refer them on to a practitioner who has a particular interest in that area.

IH: What about the wider social and political context ? What does astrology have to say about that ?

AW:  A great deal. On the 17  January 1995 a major planetary event occurred – the planet Pluto, which had been travelling through the 30 degrees of the sign of Scorpio since 1984, moved into 0 degrees of the sign of Sagittarius. On that day a major world event occurred – the Japanese earthquake which devastated the city of Kobe and killed thousands of people. The horoscope for the start of the earthquake is very powerful and has very strong links with Japan’s horoscope. This is just one example of a fascinating area of study  – Mundane astrology, the study of the links between planetary movements and world affairs. There are always striking planetary patterns to be found symbolically reflecting  major events in the world.

(note: see‘ Interesting Times – an astrologer’s view’ for some comments on the recent shift of Pluto from Sagittarius into Capricorn at the end of November 2008) )

IH: I notice that the Abbey National Building Society have started publishing their guide to investment –  it ‘s done tongue in cheek – but do you believe that astrology can be useful in planning investments ?

AW : I don’t think that popular sun sign astrology is useful in any specific way to any individual person or business, because it only takes one feature, the sun’s position, into account. But there’s a whole branch of astrology which looks at the charts of companies, and these charts’ links with overall market cycles. Business astrology is widely used though very few business people would admit it! There’s a very good book out called ‘Money and the Markets’ by Graham Bates and Jane Bowles which deals in detail with this topic. My husband works in the investment field and wishes I’d take up business astrology – but I’m more interested in the spiritual, psychological and educational dimensions, to his chagrin !

So astrology can be used for a range of different things.  Mundane astrology concerns national and world affairs – from the Latin mundus, meaning the world. There is business astrology, and then you have personal or natal astrology which is largely what I do; synastry which brings the charts together of eg parents and children, friends, lovers, business partners; and  horary astrology  which asks a question at a particular moment in time like ‘should I marry Fred ?’ and from the chart cast for the time of asking, a series of complex rules of interpretation are followed which come up with an answer.

There is medical astrology which we’ve touched on, and then there is electional where you choose a favourable moment for launching an organisation or a ship, getting married, etc. If you wanted to launch another magazine, Ian, you could get me to do a chart for you to select a good time. Inceptional astrology looks at the chart to determine conditions in force at the outset of a venture– eg for the launching of the Titanic – so that we can all be wise by hindsight !

IH: There was an amazing story on television recently concerning a young woman who had been adopted and wanted to find her birth mother. Apparently her letter of enquiry to the adoption agency arrived on the same day as a letter from her birth mother wanting to trace her! Is that an example of the heavens at work ?

AW: I suppose that’s an example of what Carl Jung called synchronicity – where things occur in the same moment in time and are thereby held together in significant interrelationship. To a member of the public the story you have just related looks like a fascinating co-incidence. To an astrologer, if you were able to look at both the girl’s chart, the mother’s, and the chart of the day of overlap, you should certainly be able to see in symbolic terms a powerful inter-relationship between the individuals and the overlapping day – and perhaps some clues regarding the nature of the significant event. But I doubt very much whether you could describe the exact event.

Part Three follows shortly

1600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Quote: ‘Writing is a true spiritual path’ by Natalie Goldberg

Continuing the Natalie Goldberg theme – check out ‘Writers!! Are you now or have you ever been…. distracted?’ – for Natalie’s writing practice rules – here is a quote from the first of her books I ever bought: she is the best writer on writing – the most practical, honest and funny – whom I have ever come across :

“……writing is a true spiritual path, an authentic Zen way. Writing is an immediate mirror: it reports back to you. You can’t fool anyone, especially yourself. Here you are the doer and the done, the worldly person and the monk. It’s an opportunity to unite the inner and the outer, both being the same anyway, only in illusion two. A great challenge, a great practice. A large way……”

from ‘Thunder and Lightning Cracking open the writer’s craft’ (p 218) by Natalie Goldberg