Monthly Archives: March 2012

What is astrology? And – never say ‘never’!

Some years ago I closed down my astrology practice. I shredded all my case files and notes, chucked out all my leaflets, packed 18 years’ teaching notes into a large box and sent them off to an Eastern European astrology group who were looking for English language teaching notes. To my not inconsiderable surprise, I have found myself in recent months gradually feeling drawn back to practice as an astrologer after a very long sabbatical. “Never say never” strikes again! 

To this end I have been busy re-contextualising myself professionally: re-reading my favourite astrology books (which I had the sense NOT to give to Oxfam! ); organising supervision with a highly experienced and trained psychodynamic therapist who is also an astrologer; arranging membership of professional bodies,  and insurance; compiling refer-on practitioners’ lists for clients needing more support than a one-off horoscope reading can provide; learning to record on MP3 files using recording software instead of the old battered hand tape machine I used to use; setting up different payment arrangements now that cheques are no longer guaranteed – 

and in my view the most important thing of all, ie composing a leaflet which tells prospective clients what astrology is, what the limitations of ‘Sun Sign’ astrology are, what a horoscope is, what an astrology reading can offer, and what my approach is, as well as clear statements of fees, times, and the all-important disclaimer now advisable in these litigious times. It is very enjoyable and quite demanding, doing all this. 

I started off with writing the section of the leaflet which sets a background context. It is far too long for a leaflet and will need to be considerably shortened. So I thought I’d publish it as a blog post. Any feedback welcome – but anything rude or offensive will get binned!

What is Astrology?

“Six thousand years ago, when the human mind  was still half asleep, Chaldean priests were standing on their watchtowers, scanning the stars.”

 (Arthur Koestler from The Sleepwalkers)

This wonderful universe

This wonderful universe

The story of humanity is one of an unending attempt to create some recognisable order from the chaos of our earliest origins. In order to survive and evolve as a species, we have  created contexts for ourselves over many millennia from our interpretations of the world around us. Modern science has shown us that we are part of an interconnected universe of mind-boggling complexity, in its minutest essence a vast energy field, ever moving and changing to the shifting dance of waves and particles – chaos and order forever interweaving, forever returning to and arising from the Quantum Vacuum, or in Buddhist terminology the Void, or in Western spiritual terminology, the Ground of our being.

The vivid quotation from the philosopher Arthur Koestler illustrates the origins of the ancient art and science of astrology – literally ‘the study of the stars’, whose basic precept “as above, so below” demonstrates that our modern understanding that we live in an interconnected cosmos is not a new idea at all. It has been around ever since we fragile humans, vulnerable to the vagaries of a tempestuous earth with its storms, earthquakes and floods, began to evolve a context of meaning by plotting with increasing sophistication as time went on, the movements of the heavenly bodies in the starry skies above us.

From observing the regular patterns and cycles followed by those heavenly bodies, and recording with care what links there seemed to be between such movements and the ebbs and flows of human life, the early astrologer/priests began to be able to determine (with varying degrees of accuracy – prediction in any field of endeavour has never to this day become an exact science!) the fate of the king and the nation according to the movements of the planets. Personal horoscopes plotting the patterns of individual life were unheard of until the first century or so AD.

Modern-day astrology is very different from the fate-ridden pronouncements of the past. The twentieth century saw big shifts in our understanding of science, history and culture which moved us from the Modernist era of  ‘grand narratives’  describing with confidence and conviction the way we are as humans, to an altogether less certain set of perceptions.

Just as modern science has shown us that there can be no absolute objectivity since the presence of the observer can be shown to influence the outcome of the experiment, so we now live in a Postmodern era where we understand that we are embedded in the unfolding action of the plot of life on Earth. Thus we shape our ‘reality’ even as we are living it – and indeed recognise that there are probably many ‘realities’. Absolute truth is not what it once was!

Astrology, too, has moved with the times although there are still many reputable and respected practitioners who stick closely to traditional methods of interpretation and prediction rooted in antiquity. Knowledge of astrology doesn’t result in harmonious agreement – even if it is to differ! – amongst astrologers. Far from it. In that respect, we are just as riven with conflicts and disagreements as any other human group.

Modern psychology, rooted in the great insights of Freud and then Jung who was basically a mystic, more eclectic and open minded in his knowledge base than Freud, has had considerable impact on how astrology is now taught and practised.

In antiquity, the planets were seen as gods whose interaction with and action upon humans’ lives determined their fate. Jung’s great contribution to the modernising of astrology in the 20th century was his formulation – from the study of universal myth – of the concept of the collective unconscious, an updating of the ancient idea of the World Soul. This collective unconscious comprises a group of energy patterns or archetypes, an idea taken from the Greek philosopher Plato, which are present in all cultures across the world and which shape every aspect of human behaviour.

Jung’s view was taken up by the first of the great psychological astrologers Dane Rudhyar in the middle decades of the twentieth century, and further developed by other astrologers, most notably well-known Jungian analyst, astrologer and author Liz Greene whose fusion of mythology, Jungian psychology and astrology further shaped the model known as Psychological Astrology which has become very influential in the thinking of many contemporary astrologers, myself included.

To be continued….

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1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Someone was having a bad day….

Do you make a point of binning Forwards on principle? I usually do, but my husband sent me this one the other day and insisted that I read it,  on the grounds that I was such a stroppy anti-authority person that it would be balm to my soul, grist to my mill, etc. And believe it or not, dear Reader, it truly is! Dedicated to all stroppy folk everywhere, check out this letter supposedly sent recently to the UK Passport Office….

Dear Sirs,

I’m in the process of renewing my passport, and still cannot believe this.. How is it that Sky Television has my address and telephone number and knows that I bought a bleeding satellite dish from them back in 1977, and yet, the Government is still asking me where I was bloody born and on what date.

For goodness sake, do you guys do this by hand? My birth date you have on my pension book, and it is on all the income tax forms I’ve filed for the past 30 years. It is on my National Health card, my driving license, my car insurance, on the last eight damn passports I’ve had, on all those stupid customs declaration forms I’ve had to fill out before being allowed off the plane over the last 30 years, and all those insufferable census forms.

Would somebody please take note, once and for all, that my mother’s name is Mary Anne, my father’s name is Robert and I’d be absolutely astounded if that ever changed between now and when I die!!!!!!

I apologise, I’m really pissed off this morning. Between you and me, I’ve had enough of this bullshit! You send the application to my house, then you ask me for my bloody address!!!!

What is going on? Do you have a gang of neanderthal illiterates working there? Look at my damn picture. Do I look like Bin Laden? I don’t want to dig up Yasser Arafat, for Gods sake. I just want to go and park my backside on some sandy beach somewhere. And would someone please tell me, why would you care a damn whether I plan on visiting a farm in the next 15 days? If I ever got the urge to do something weird to a chicken or a goat, believe you me, you’d be the last bloody people I’d want to tell !!

Well, I have to go now, because I have to go to the other end of the poxy city to get yet another copy of my birth certificate, to the tune of £30. Would it be so complicated to have all the services in the same spot to assist in the issuance of a new passport the same day?? Nooooooooooooo, that’d be too damn easy and maybe make sense. You’d rather have us running all over the bloody place like chickens with our heads cut off, then have to find some moron to confirm that it’s really me on the damn picture – you know, the one where we’re not allowed to smile?! (bureaucratic  idiots) Hey, do you know why we couldn’t smile if we wanted to? Because we’re totally pissed off!

Signed

An Irate Subject

ps (from Anne W) I don’t know where this originated, but if the reader recognises it could they let me know and I will happily credit it.

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550 words copyright Anne Whitaker/An Irate Subject 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Order and Chaos – a Buddhist ‘take’

Along with many people, I owe a large debt to Buddhist wisdom. Of the many books of Buddhist psychology I read during my 2001-8 time in the Underworld, three stand out which I would recommend to anyone going through crisis. They provide both practical coping techniques and spiritual support:

Pema Chodron’s When things fall apart”, Jack Kornfield’s “After the ecstasy, the laundry”, (see  Book Reviews  page for review of this great book) and  Bo Lozoff’s“It’s a great life – it just takes practice”.

Lozoff describes a prolonged solo retreat in which day in, day out, he meditates upon the following :

“Anything that can happen to anyone at any time can happen to me, and I accept this”. He keeps this meditative thread running through days of allowing fantasies of the worst things that could devastate him, and those he loves, to rise and dissolve. At the end of the retreat he goes home, more at peace with the realisation that chaos can and does arise at any time to sweep away the order of our personal and collective lives.

Bo Lozoff is now in his sixties. His spiritual journey began at the age of eighteen. A typical self-absorbed materialistic American teenager (his own description) driving home late one night, a momentary lapse of concentration caused him to crash into a lorry and smash himself to bits.

Many months of painful surgery and rehabilitation put him together again – a person much deepened and strengthened in spirit, no longer interested in pursuing the shallow materialistic agenda of his culture, intent on a life of service and of finding deeper answers to the big WHYs : eg  Why are we here ?” and “Why do we suffer ?”

In essence, the Buddhist view is that suffering is caused by wishing for things to be other than they are.

I found reference to this simple, penetrating piece of wisdom – prominently displayed in our kitchen –  bracingly therapeutic during my long period of recovering my energy, especially at times when self-pity threatened to take me over.

Life requires both chaos and order. With chaos alone, nothing could take form. Order by itself shuts down creativity and ultimately life itself. Chaos and order interpenetrate at every level from the most trivial to the most profound.

Most of us who are at all computer-literate have at least once had the experience, early on, of pressing the wrong key or clicking the wrong box – sending our beautifully ordered and pleasing words which we haven’t backed up, into the void. And I know of hillwalkers who, slipping in the wrong place, fell to their deaths throwing loved ones’ lives into chaos in seconds.

How do we cope with this ?

Buddhism advises us to hold very lightly to order, knowing it can turn at a blink to chaos; and to walk into chaos, regarding it as ‘very good news’ in the challenging words of renowned teacher Chogyam Trungpa.

Clinging to outdated structures whilst the storms of life are tearing down everything familiar, usually doesn’t work. ‘Leaning into the sharp points’, trying to face and learn from upheaval, is a more fruitful strategy. But its rewards may take time to become evident, and it can be very hard to find the trust that new order will eventually emerge.

At an ordinary day-to day level, the key to coping well with the ever-changing energy pattern of life is cultivating the ability to live in the present moment. “Carpe diem” as the Roman poet Horace famously said in his Odes : “seize the day”. Now is all we’re sure of. Let’s live it fully!

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

This is the latest post from one of my favourite blogs,” Heroes Not Zombies “, which anyone out there interested in healing in the broadest sense will enjoy browsing – there is much to learn, and upon which to reflect….including a review of Rupert Sheldrake‘s latest book “The Science Delusion” which I am currently reading with great pleasure….

Heroes Not Zombies

When you stop to think about it, there’s an awful lot going on inside your brain that’s nothing to do with thinking. Well, when I say nothing to do with thinking, I don’t exactly mean that….after all, everything is connected to everything else in there. What I mean is that conscious thought and reasoning is only a small part of the function of the brain and the mind. Some of that is about sensory and motor function – your brain processes a lot of signals from the sensory nerves and a lot of those signals don’t make it as far as conscious awareness. Your brain also processes a lot of the muscle activity of your body…everything from voluntary movements eg picking up a pencil….to involuntary effects like heart rate and rhythm.

One interesting aspect of what goes on in the mind is emotions – by “mind” I do not mean…

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