Monthly Archives: January 2013

Should we argue with fundamentalism?

Fortunately, it was a peat bank we hit. That cushioned the impact, saving the car from much damage. Uncle Patrick had stopped singing “Abide with me”: for once, he was completely silent. Perhaps he was wondering how to get the car out of the ditch. Aunt Maria, white faced, was leaning over into the back of the car where I had been jolted onto the floor behind the driver’s seat. No one had heard of seatbelts  in the 1950s. “Are you all right, dear?” she said anxiously. “I think so,” I said. “Maybe I’ve bruised my knee, that’s all.” ….

At last Patrick spoke. “I think perhaps you shouldn’t mention this to your father,” he said. He knew my father’s opinion of his driving, gained from the local grapevine. He also found my father rather intimidating, perhaps because Dad was not the least in awe of his clerical collar. I liked Patrick, despite the increasingly intense arguments we were having about religion as I moved into the truculence and awkwardness of adolescence.

“No, of course not,” I said. I understood very well that his mind was always more on God than the mere driving of a motor vehicle. Also being the owner of a wandering mind, inclined to “higher things”, I had a secret sympathy for his predicament. Life on Earth was too mundane for our liking, my aunt included. Not that we ever discussed this, of course. My family was not strong on personal disclosure of any kind. But I was very good at knowing how people thought and felt without them saying anything.

“If she doesn’t marry a minister, she’ll make a minister out of the man she marries!” prophesied my father about my maiden aunt Maria. It was known that she was ‘disappointed in love’ – her first great love had been for a presbyterian minister. I never did discover what had happened. She seemed to be wedded to God, until Patrick appeared in her life. Ten years younger than she, he had had a colourful life as a whaler, then a docker, until, in his early thirties, he “got the curam”.

This is an occasional but distinctive syndrome particular to the Hebrides, whereby a man (usually) having lead a dissolute life – “He would have sucked whisky through a dirty doormat on the steps of the Stag Hotel!” as my father once memorably put it of a local drinker who had “got the curam” – suddenly discovers God and goes away to Aberdeen University divinity faculty to train to be a Free Church minister. He then, usually, takes up a charge in a country parish in the Highlands and Islands and rails from his pulpit about, amongst other things, the evils of his former lifestyle.

(nb I am not suggesting for a moment that this is the case with all men who train for the ministry at Aberdeen Uni divinity faculty. Just some of them !!)

And thus it was with Patrick, ably assisted by his new wife my aunt Maria, a natural academic and scholar who had never had the opportunity to go to university herself. Having left school at fourteen, barely literate, Patrick mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew with her help, and duly became a minister. Although our disagreements became more entrenched as I grew older, I admired them both hugely for this effort and eventual success.

The Big Why ?

The Big Why ?

I have always asked questions. However, I have equally had an innate dislike of anyone providing me with THE ANSWER, having always sensed – and the unfolding of life, experience and much reading has affirmed this – that there are many answers. Mere humans are in no position to determine which, if any, are correct.

This persistent orientation has probably assisted me in having a complex and colourful life; it has also had its serious downside. Life is much easier and simpler if you believe the answer is out there somewhere, and feel gratitude when someone convincing provides it.

Uncle Patrick, and with equal conviction but less rhetoric Aunt Maria, had THE ANSWER and did their best to provide me with it. However, I simply could not accept that every word in the Bible was literally true, that Darwin’s brilliant theory of evolution was the work of the Devil, or that the Pope was the Antichrist and that all who were not Saved (ie a few thousand believers in Predestination on a small, wet, windswept, obscure island) were Damned to Hell everlasting.

So I spent a lot of time in my mid-teens, as the time grew closer for me to make my longed-for escape from home to University, arguing philosophy and theology with Patrick. He had the edge over me in the theological department. for obvious reasons. But my study of ancient Greek, a few years after Patrick had completed his, drew me much more at that stage in my life to the classical splendours of Homer’s ‘Oddysey’ than to the religion taught to me during my childhood.

By the time I left for Uni, Patrick feared I was a lost cause. For the first two years, Aunt Maria wrote to me regularly – long religious homilies wrapped around large bars of Cadbury’s fruit and nut chocolate. How I hated those letters! Eventually the searing anger and resentment I had carried with me from my difficult and painful family life boiled over and scalded her: I recognise now that she was unwittingly providing me with a scapegoat on which I could dump my anger.

I wrote to her telling her that I objected to her trying to ram her beliefs down my throat, and never to communicate with me again. Our relationship thus broke down, and was not to be healed for nearly thirty years.

However, Patrick and Maria taught me one valuable lesson during our long and increasingly bitter wrangle over religion. It is a futile waste of time to bother arguing with fundamentalism. As my life went on, I discovered that this early truth applied whether the context was religion, science, politics, education, feminism or whatever. There is no way of engaging in dialogue with fundamentalism. Any attempt is doomed to failure. So I learned, at quite a young age, not to bother trying.

As a much older and I hope slightly wiser person, my approach now is to try to be tolerant and good humoured in the face of  those who have THE ANSWER. But that is hard to maintain – especially given the marked lack of tolerance usually offered in return….

So- what do you folks out there think? Should we argue with fundamentalism – religious, scientific, political?

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1100 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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How to squash an enquiring mind….

She was so electrified by religious fervour that her wiry red hair almost stood on end. I was fourteen, she was enraged.

“ Miss Anne Whitaker, how dare you ask me if I believe in the theory of evolution. If YOU believe in the theory of evolution, you will be damned to hell everlasting !!”

I believe that was the last time I asked a question in our Religious Education class.

Ardmore beach, during the summer holidays a few weeks later. I was just beginning to develop my pilgrimages, being at an age where I could slip away for a bike ride without that attracting too much parental protectiveness and restriction. I had such a deep need to be alone, quite often. Sharing a room with my six year old sister, I had no private space in my parents’ home.

Here at Ardmore it was usually deserted. There was a rumour that World War Two mines lay buried in the sand. This may have been propaganda designed to keep people from wandering around the perimiter of  the nearby airport. I didn’t believe the story about the mines; moreover, there was a great place between the dunes to leave my bike where it would not be seen.

Tern on patrol

Tern on patrol

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roseate_Tern

The beach was about a mile long, approached through dunes spiked with marram grass and patrolled by terns. Here, I could walk, forage for interesting objects cast up by the tide, have solitude. The endless timeless rhythm of sea breaking and ebbing on the shore hypnotised me.

The sound I heard would have been the same a million years ago – would probably be the same a million years hence. This realisation was too big and awesome for my mind to hold for long. As I strolled, finding a slow rhythm, the tensions and tightness in my body generated by the lack of peace at home began to unwind.

I now understand that I would fall into a meditiative state on these walks, taken as often as possible from that summer until I left home at seventeen. In that state I felt just like a grain of sand on the beach – minute, but an integral part of a great Wholeness.

In those days as puberty began to thrust my body, mind and spirit from the cocoon of childhood, I found the Holy Spirit in the wildness and expansiveness of sand, sea and sky. It was certainly not present in my  secondary school Religious Education class on the religion-obsessed island on which I grew up……

Night Sea Journey

Night Sea Journey

(http://www.flickr.com/photos/magnusvk/166233536/)

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450 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Constructive criticism: can we do without it?

Where would we writers be, without constructive criticism?

One of the most useful pieces of advice I was ever given came from a newspaper editor I once worked for, a crusty old chap who called a spade a spade. “You’re too wordy, my girl!” he observed. (this was in the good old days, before my even thinking he was being offensive might have got him arrested….) “I’ve never known any piece of writing to get anything other than better by the removal of 25 per cent of its wording. Now – take “How I was left on the shelf and found true happiness” away, and chop it!”

Honestly, I did write an article with that title, for the Spring Brides feature of a provincial Scottish newspaper a few decades ago. And yes, dear reader, it actually did get published, minus 25% of its wording. Somewhere in my files I have the cutting to prove it….

Another piece of even earlier straight-from-the-shoulder feedback has just found its way to the front of my braincell. Picture the scene. Aberdeen university, the infamous Sixties. I had left my seriously overdue history essay till the very last possible evening before my second exasperated extension from my usually genial tutor had expired.

I finally stopped procrastination and began writing at one am. Many cups of coffee and cigarettes later, at 8am, the task was completed. It had to be handed in by  9am or I would not receive my History class certificate. Without that, I could not sit my degree exam. Serious business.

Burning the midnight oil….

I ran most of the way to my tutor’s office. It was pouring with rain. On the way, I somehow managed to drop one of the essay’s ten pages into a puddle. It was only rendered semi-illegible – and only the bibliography, I thought, thankful for small mercies. Made it by 9. Just.

A week later I visited my charismatic and much loved, but somewhat fierce, history tutor – Owen Dudley Edwards. He glared at me as he thrust the dishevelled bundle of paper that was my essay back at me. I scanned the title page. “Phew!!” I thought with relief. Fifty per cent. A pass!!

“This essay on ‘The Origins of the American War of Independence” Owen Dudley said severely, in words I have never forgotten, “bears all the hallmarks of the triumph of native intelligence and writing ability over little if any credible content.” There was a long pause. ” The bibliography – I had cited Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples having once flicked through it – I assume is a joke….”

There was a frosty silence. I left, not feeling as chastened as the good Mr. Edwards had intended.

“Mmmmmm” I thought to myself as I headed off to the refectory to buy a much needed bacon sandwich, ” maybe I should be a writer if I ever grow up.

That crusty newspaper editor is probably long dead. Owen Dudley Edwards is still with us, and still giving out his straight from the shoulder opinions. I know this because I heard him on the radio a couple of months ago. I am grateful to both of them for their never-forgotten feedback. It was direct, it pulled no punches. It let me know where I stood. Grit in the oyster, it helped me become a competent writer.

However, in recent times, constructive criticism seems to have morphed into something altogether much less forthright, much more timid, much more inclined to dish out indiscriminate praise and affirmation regardless of performance. Is this helpful to young people’s education and development?

What do YOU think?

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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An astrologer cranks up her brain cell for 2013….

After a very long sabbatical spent resting, reading and writing, I am happy to have returned to working as a consultant astrologer and teacher since 1st May 2012. I have done a number of interviews over the years. This one was particular fun to do, since Wendy of that excellent site The Know It All Astrologer sent me a list of questions which I was not expecting at all! The unexpected, of course, is useful for jolting one’s remaining brain cell into something approaching dynamic action….and boy, at the start of 2013, do I need all the brain-galvanising help I can get….

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Anne Whitaker

Anne Whitaker

What transit always shows up for you in surprising ways?

They all do, especially the long-lasting ones. The deep challenges that force our growth lurk in the realms of the unconscious, just waiting to hitch a ride on the nearest really tough transit. For example, I didn’t think that ten years of Neptune transits was going to involve an enforced descent into the Underworld for most of that period! However, the good news is that I have now emerged, much improved (unless you ask my husband….!)

What is your funniest transit or retrograde experience?

There are several, not all of which can be aired publicly! The one which comes immediately to mind is the occasion, in March 1985, when Saturn turned retrograde on my 28 Scorpio IC. In the middle of lunch with an old friend who at that time was a bank manager, without warning, I passed out. Just then, a friend of his, who was also a bank manager, was passing by the restaurant window. I came round and insisted on going home – very groggily, with a bank manager holding me up by each arm. Very Saturn in Scorpio, don’t you think?!

Would you rather be ruled by Uranus or Jupiter? Why?

What a question! Both those planets are strong in my horoscope, Uranus in the tenth house leading an eastern bowl shape, with Jupiter in the third closing the bowl, and the two in bi-quintile aspect. My Ascendant is also on the Jupiter/Uranus midpoint. However, if forced to choose I would go for Jupiter, provided the aspects weren’t too difficult. My reasons are probably dictated by the stage I’ve got to in life: that disruptive, eccentric, unpredictable, stubborn individualism characteristic of a Uranus-ruled life feels too tiring to contemplate now!

Jupiter’s boundless energy and optimism, ability to inspire others and be inspired by the more positive dimensions of  life, and willingness to be open to a sense of meaningful connectedness to that which is greater than oneself, are especially attractive to me at this point.

What advice would you give to someone learning how to read their own chart?

One, there are dozens of ways of evading personal responsibility – resolve at the outset never to do so by blaming your horoscope or your transits for your difficulties in life.

Two, realise that objectivity is something to be aspired to, which can never be achieved by mere human beings. This being the case, try to recognise that you can be most objective and therefore most helpful by reading the horoscopes of strangers, provided you have appropriate training and supervision. When approaching your own horoscope, or those of your loved ones, you will inevitably colour the planetary picture before you with your own hopes and fears.

Three, the illuminating light which is gradually cast as your understanding of  the symbols in your chart grows, will be wonderfully helpful in shedding light on your gifts, pains, motivations and aspirations. But bear in mind that possessing astrological knowledge has a shadow side – for example, I have never known anyone including myself who didn’t look at upcoming transits, especially of Saturn and Pluto, without a certain amount of fear.

To help my astrology students with this,  I used to point out that 99.9% of the human race from the beginning of time has managed to stagger through life without the aid of astrology! So – enjoy the fascination of  deciphering the astrological map of your life. But don’t get too precious about it – and be aware that this wonderful knowledge has a double edge….

What astrology books do you re-read or use the most?


The two astrologers who have most inspired and educated me have been Liz Greene and the late Charles Harvey, with both of whom I was fortunate to study – unofficially from the mid-1980s and formally between 1995 and 1998. As reference books for my interest in mundane astrology, my three favourites are: The outer planets and their Cycles by Liz Greene,  Anima Mundi – the astrology of the individual and the collective by Charles Harvey, and Mundane Astrology by Michael Baigent, Nicholas Campion and Charles Harvey.

My copy of Stephen Arroyo’sAstrology, Karma and Transformation , that wonderful in-depth companion on the ‘stormy journey of the soul’ is now so well-thumbed that it is starting to fall to bits – and when I feel like some outrageous, light-hearted, funny, but deadly accurate astrological analysis I turn to Debbi Kempton-Smith’s Secrets from a stargazer’s notebook.

However, in keeping with my re-engagement with work as an astrologer and teacher, I am now moving into re-framing my relationship with astrology in keeping with the ” new paradigm…. emerging in Western civilisation, led by transpersonal psychology, chaos and general evolution theories, and the human potential movement…. ” in the words of Armand Diaz, a fine writer and author of Integral Astrology which I am currently reviewing. I have also greatly enjoyed reading Bernadette Brady’s book Astrology a place in chaos – which also re-contextualises astrology for the contemporary world. And – have been given The Archetypal Cosmos by Keiron Le Grice for Christmas and am really looking forward to reading it!

(permission to re-publish this interview was given by The Know It All Astrologer)

1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page