Monthly Archives: December 2009

Winter Solstice Book Review: “The steps of the Sun” by Paul F. Newman

At the Winter Solstice 2009, Paul F. Newman writes:

“The winter solstice, the shortest day, is for us in the northern hemisphere the
Sun’s lowest possible point. Its declination or latitude measurement is as far
south of the celestial equator as it is possible to be. These steps of the Sun
mark out the turning phases of our year and the customs we have attached to them….


….and Anne Whitaker reviews “Declination in Astrology The steps of the Sunby Paul F. Newman ….

The Steps of the Sun

DECLINATION in Astrology

Declination measures the position of planets North or South of the celestial equator, which is the Earth’s equator projected into space. As Paul F. Newman demonstrates in this broad ranging and informed study, it is a measure which has been used at least since Neolithic times, notably in the most famous solar temple in the world, five thousand year old Stonehenge. Do we astrologers use it today? The answer to that question is probably – not much.

The blurb on the back of the book asserts, however, that declination is “an ancient art of astrology currently undergoing a vital revival” and Paul F. Newman is to be congratulated on presenting the topic in both a practical and inspiring way which should have a number of astrologers checking Norths and Souths in future!

One of the problems with astrological practice is that there are so many techniques and approaches available that the practitioner, intent on earning a living, has to prune this cornucopia to a workable minimum of personal favourites.

As one reads through DECLINATION in Astrology The steps of the Sun”, it becomes clear that declination provides easily accessible tools, which can most definitely enhance the art of analysis.

I have two favourites from the toolbox. The first is Out of Bounds planets – overstepping the declination boundaries set by the Sun, vividly describing ‘awkward squad’ tendencies in those who possess them!! The second is  planets on or near Zero declination, the equatorial point dividing the earth into Northern and Southern hemispheres, and therefore in Newman’s own words “a potent and critical position”.

Readers familiar with Paul F. Newman’s writing will recognise the quirkiness and diversity of the examples from film, poetry, soap opera and science fiction he draws upon from his own wide reading to bring the book’s theory to life. We have “Tarzan of the Apes” rubbing shoulders with that late great astrologer John Addey (out of bounds Mercury); with Liberace (out of bounds Venus, you’d never have guessed!) ; with a famous “Photo of the Beatles”; with Mickey Mouse, the Elephant Man and “The Twilight Zone” to name a very few.

My favourite, as a poetry lover, is Paul’s brilliant and haunting analysis of Coleridge’s “Rime of the ancient mariner”. It is only after the old navigator crosses the equator ( Zero declination) and sails South, that all the strange events following the killing of the albatross unfold…read on, and experience the scary allurement of Neptune’s realm….

Paul F. Newman skilfully weaves astronomical declination theory together with key aspects of mythology connected to the solar journey throughout the four seasons of the year. The artwork is his own: he has produced diagrams which are both clear, and soothing to the brains of spatial dyslexics like myself who have rather a struggle with the astronomical basis of our great art.

This is an accomplished book which deserves to be widely read, contributing as it does to the updating and publicising of a dimension of astrology which until fairly recently has been somewhat neglected.


Paul F Newman

Paul F. Newman is an astrologer, astrology teacher, writer and contributor to many journals including ‘The Mountain Astrologer‘ and  ‘The Astrological Journal’, author of “You’re not a person–just a birth chart” and  “DECLINATION  in Astrology The Steps of the Sun”

He can be contacted at


600 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Paul F. Newman 2009

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

NOT the Xmas Round Robin….

At Christmas time 2004,  having read about a dozen round robins arriving with their respective cards, all eulogising each family’s travels and achievements in the year just ending, I became seriously fed up.

The “Not the Xmas round robin” concept was born in that moment.

Life is not all sunshine and achievement as depicted in the standard end of the year card insert, I thought to myself. So why not produce something a bit different – a piece of reflection conveying some shadow as well as light, something more honest, something offering a bit of inspiration from our common experiences of being human ?

Since then I have written a “not the Xmas round robin” piece of end-of-year reflection for inclusion in my Xmas cards every year. People like it. So this year I thought I’d share it with you – my increasing band of loyal readers here at “Writing from the Twelfth House”.


“not the Xmas round robin 2009”

……a quotation from “Simple Abundance” by Sarah Ban Breathnach for  8 December states……

“ Gloom we have always with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending.”
Barbara Holland

As you legions of devoted fans of Anne Whitaker’s Annual Thought for the Day will be well aware by now, Ian and I have had a pretty hefty allocation of family and health difficulties in recent years although our overriding feeling continues to be one of gratitude for my full recovery from what I now think of (with a characteristic tinge of melodrama, but not that much!) as my Descent and Return from the Underworld, 2001-08.

There have been many consequences flowing from this experience, and I am very slowly beginning to appreciate what riches one can bring back from the Underworld – provided that the experience of Descent and Return is understood as part of “the stormy journey of the soul” and accepted in that spirit. (not easy, by the way!!)


Ian and me, Dartmoor, August 2009

Ian and me, Dartmoor, August 2009

One of the gifts for both Ian and myself – and probably the most important development of 2009 – has been a growing understanding of how vulnerable we all are behind our carefully crafted defences, how ephemeral this life is, and how quickly and brutally all that we thought we had can be taken from us.

Thus we have been learning to live as fully as we can in each day, never being too busy to stop and appreciate the many small but pleasurable moments in life therein.

The still watchfulness of the herons on the nearby River Kelvin. The delightful smile on nine month old neighbour wee Lauchie’s face, as he leans over to rub noses, his latest favourite trick. A peaceful cup of coffee whilst listening to children rehearsing carols in Princes Square, Glasgow’s elegant city centre shopping precinct, magically decorated at this time of year, during a pause in Xmas shopping on a wet and dreary Glasgow day. Having a good laugh, either at our own or the world’s stupidities (have you done your risk assessment before digging out the Xmas tree lights yet?!)

So the quotation above means a lot to me. It is easy to moan and buckle under life’s many pains great and small. But cultivating joy (if you can – I appreciate that life is simply too hard for many people in this world to be able to manage to do so) and living in the moment as much as possible has recently been confirmed by research as being the route to happiness.

So – let me and Ian confirm this truth for you for free. It works!

In conclusion, lest you are beginning by now to think I am losing my sardonic edge in the declining years, I leave you all, especially the over-50s, with this observation recently made to me by a rather cynical but witty person I know:

“Anyone over fifty who is not in pain for one reason or another, is dead!”


650 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Can the future be predicted?

“ Teach me your mood, o patient stars
who climb each night the ancient sky.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Definition of prediction: a thing predicted; a forecast

(p 1140, The Oxford English Reference Dictionary, Oxford University Press 1996)


The question of whether it is possible to foretell the future is one which has preoccupied humans ever since we evolved into self-conscious beings and began to conceptualise past, present and future – around 80,000 years ago, we now think. Prediction has thus been around for a long time. Economists do it. Weather men/women do it. Politicians do it. Physicists do it. But most of the foregoing direct scorn and derision at the people who have done it for longer than anyone else – astrologers.

(n.b. my comments in this article do not relate to popular Sun Sign astrology which is a generalised form of entertainment based largely on the position of only one planet, the sun)

Measuring the Heavens: The Mariners' Astrolabe

Measuring the Heavens: The Mariners' Astrolabe

There is at least six thousand years’  worth of recorded empirical evidence, much of it stored on clay tablets, as yet undeciphered, in the basements of museums across the world, demonstrating that the movements of  the planets in our solar system correlate with particular shifts in “the affairs of men” both collectively and at an individual level.

This empirical observation continues into the present day in the consulting rooms of astrologers across the world. For example, a number of politicians and economists consult astrologers regularly. They are mostly unwilling to admit it – though we astrologers know who they are!

What is my view on prediction, in summary, after nearly thirty years of  observing correlations between individual and collective life on earth and the planets’ movements?

There is no doubt in my mind that astrologers can look at the unfolding pattern of energies through space/time, 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.

However, they cannot predict on a consistent and exact basis how those branches are going to manifest.  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 Henry the Second of France ( then aged thirty-seven)  was in danger of death in his forty-second year, by a head injury incurred in single combat in an enclosed space. And five years later Henry duly died of a lance splinter which entered his eyes and pierced his brain. There have also been some spectacular failures, eg to predict that the Munich agreement of 1938 would lead to war.

We do much better at describing the essence of a pattern – identifying the exact branches through which energies may manifest 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!

Because of this 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….

I began to study astrology seriously in 1980. Until then, my attitude was not sceptical (ie willing to consider the facts in an open-minded way) but dismissive, to say the least. But in the 1970s I had an encounter with astrologers, involving an unsolicited prediction, which strongly challenged my prejudices.

I leave you thus with the rather interesting tale of how a dismissive, ill-informed maligner of a great and ancient art (me, 1980) turned into a devoted and admiring practitioner. Life sure is full of surprises!


Not the Astrology Column


700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

A book for Advent: “Things Seen and Unseen” by Nora Gallagher

“ Things seen and unseen
A year
faith ”

by  Nora Gallagher

“ Faith is not about belief in something irrational or about a blind connection to something unreal. It’s about a gathering, an accumulation of events and experiences of a different order….” (pp 78-79)


It was just such an “accumulation of events and experiences of a different order….” that led me in mid-life, after an odyssey of spiritual exploration, finally to take the Dalai Lama ’s advice. If you can find a corner in your own tradition, he said in one of his books, why adopt anyone else’s? So it was that I found a corner in the Scottish Episcopal Church, fifteen minutes’ walk from my house.

All the sacred stories, Christianity being one, have at their core the ability to offer humans collective ritual practice through which to affirm that persistent sense, endemic to the human psyche, that we are all tiny sparks in a great blaze of divine light. We need to celebrate that together, with humility and awe. I needed to have that celebration in my life. And to find a mode of entry, despite my innate resistance to any form of doctrine or dogma.

As I struggled with my defiant heart in the first few months of churchgoing, a friend gave me Nora Gallagher’s fine memoir to read; the narrative begins in the season of Advent. It proved a great support and comfort.  Most importantly, it aided my entry into church life. A re-read followed about two years later, and again this month – for our church community’s book group.

This time, I resolved to write an appreciation for my website. This is THE memoir to read for anyone returning, as Nora Gallagher did, to a church forsaken a long time previously; anyone with spiritual needs to be met who doesn’t quite know how to go about it; anyone who is prone to sitting in the back of the church and crying without quite knowing why – as Nora Gallagher did, for the first year of her return.


Trinity Episcopal Church, Santa Barbara, USA

She writes beautifully, with stark honesty and directness at times: What is a priest? she asks a friend, a canon.  “A person who is too fucked-up to do anything else” he replies drily.

She can also convey her experiences with spare and moving simplicity, for example in describing a totally unexpected encounter with the presence of a beloved friend who had recently died, Lois, at a time when Nora herself felt especially vulnerable and in need of consolation: “…. I felt, particularly, the skin of her hands. They felt dry and sunny, as if she were holding a piece of the sun….The overall feeling of this whatever-it-was was of detached kindness, without emotion, clarity without sentiment, the purity and refreshment of a sun-dried sheet.”

She is able to communicate the ordinary day to day failings and inadequacies of herself and her fellow community members as they travel together for a whole year from one Advent season to the next. The texture and turbulence of church life is rendered with forensic accuracy and unfailing humour. The despair and exhaustion of supporting terminally ill friends and, most painfully, her beloved brother Kit, through the gruelling business of dying, is not shirked.

Central to the whole book is her developing understanding that the beauty and nurturing of liturgy as spiritual practice has an inseparable partner: service to others. To this end “A couple of us started a soup kitchen in the parish hall”, which grows and develops throughout the church year, feeding all levels and groups inhabiting the underside of  American prosperity – people who for many and varied reasons have fallen through the cracks. For them, the Trinity community kitchen is a lifeline.



Gallagher does not glamourise the usually thankless and occasionally dangerous business of feeding those folk upon whom ordinary society has turned their backs. She writes about the vicissitudes of such service with unfailing honesty, humanity, and just the right seasoning of humour.

The church to which Nora Gallagher returns is not the same church that she left – had it been, she clearly states, she would not be there. She is supported by wonderful women priests: realistic, humorous, humane and compassionate. In the partnership between ordained and lay ministry which is strong at Trinity, she takes on such tasks as serving at the Eucharist: “The mysterious and irrational Eucharist….that fed my mysterious and irrational life.” In attending to this task, she sees “the fallen-down helplessness in people’s eyes….” but also “….bits of hidden life, something about to emerge…. ”

A thorny contemporary issue finds central place in this vividly evoked year in the life of Trinity Episcopal church. Mark Asman, the temporary priest in charge, is an openly gay man. Should the community call him as their Rector? They love him and appreciate his strengths, especially his ability to pull the community closer by bringing out the best in people. But is this enough to cope with the controversy such an appointment would surely bring? The way the Trinity community deals with this process, and their eventual arrival at a decision – Mark was called, and said “Yes” – is beautifully woven by Nora Gallagher into the tapestry of a vital, painful, joyful, tempestuous and inspiring year.

I love the way she ends the book. She and spiritual director Ann Jaqua are lunching in a favourite cafe, discussing their latest creative project which is meeting with some resistance. Nora observes that there are times when she can’t stand church life. Ann responds that she can either put up with it, or start a new one. Just then, “a crazy man with dreadlocks” who used to come to the community kitchen strolls by. Nora can’t finish her sandwich and is wondering aloud what to do with it. The crazy man pauses, asks if she wants the half sandwich, she says no, and without a pause he takes it. Ann Jaqua grins. “Nothing is lost.”

Do choose “Things Seen and Unseen” as your Advent companion!


1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page