Some thoughts on Secondary Progressions…stepping into Mystery…

From the time I discovered Secondary Progressions as a Faculty of Astrological Studies student in the 1980s, they have fascinated me. This fascination was amplified as I slowly became an experienced astrology teacher, using my classes (as you do) for the brilliant qualitative research opportunities ‘on the hoof’  that they undoubtedly provide.

Standing Stone at Samhain
 Standing Stone at Samhain

When you first go round a class of a dozen students, tracking their Suns changing signs by secondary progression, discovering their corresponding life changes as well as your own, it does rather cause you to scratch your head – after you and your students have come down from the sheer buzz of it all – and ask 

“But why does astrology work ?And why does a purely symbolic technique like SPs seem to work too ?” 

My aim here is to offer a personal reflection on Secondary Progressions, sharing my clients’ experiences of those mysterious symbolic tools, as well as my own. My observations are also offered to experienced practitioners in such a way that they can take a moment: to step back from their astro-toolkit and be freshly awestruck by the essential Mystery which SPs evoke.

Most of all, I’d like to intrigue and inspire readers who are fairly new to astrology to begin their own journey into this misty, awesome territory.

To read the whole of this essay, first published in the UK’s Astrological Journal in 2017 and The Mountain Astrologer magazine in 2018, click the link below:

Secondary Progressions: April – May 2019

Standing Stone at SamhainStanding Stone at Samhain

250 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2020

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see About Page 

An astrologer at work : 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. As contemporary astrologer and philosopher Richard Tarnas so eloquently puts it in “Prometheus the Awakener” (Auriel Press Oxford, 1993, page eight) :

“It is astrology’s extraordinary insight that these complex, multidimensional archetypes which govern the forms of human experience are intelligibly connected with the planets and their movements in the heavens, an association that is observable in a constant coincidence between specific planetary alignments and specific corresponding archetypal phenomena in human affairs.”

Within this current context I decided to re-publish The Principles and Practice of Astrology, which originally appeared in Connections Magazine, Scotland, UK in February 1996, as an interview between its editor, Ian Holland, and myself. Its account of an astrologer at work will, I hope, provide interested readers – astrologers and non-astrologers alike – with something of the flavour of professional, in depth astrological practice. Having a competent astrological reading done is a very useful way of gaining insights into one’s character and motivations – as I found out myself many years ago, when I certainly wasn’t looking for help from that quarter! Now read on….


IH :  How did you  get into astrology  ?

AW: I was very dismissive of astrology in my earlier years, wrongly believing like most people that the stuff in the Sun Columns was all there was to it. But in the mid 1970s I was in a launderette in Bath in England, where I became friends with a little girl – it turned out that her parents were astrologers. They invited me back for a cup of tea, and drew up a Birth Chart on a piece of paper which I still have. They did various ooings and aaings over it, then produced a description of the inner  workings and outer manifestations of my life  which stunned me with its accuracy.

My First Horoscope
My First Horoscope

“ You  may be dismissive now,” they said.  “But in your early thirties there’s going to be something arising in you which longs to connect with a more spiritual and a more esoteric dimension of life – you might very well end up doing astrology yourself.” I regarded this as nonsense, thinking I was a Marxist then. It’s only now in middle age that I realise how much I was at that time denying my own spirituality, my own need for relationship with the symbolic world. Then in my early thirties someone gave me a present of an astrology book. I was compelled by it, found out about the Faculty of Astrological Studies and did their Certificate Correspondence course. By that point I knew that astrology was a subject I wanted to pursue probably for the rest of my life.

But I think that it’s important for people who work in esoteric fields to have a strongly rational side, a sceptical side. One of the things I say to my students right from the beginning is, “look – I wear the sceptic on my left shoulder, where it will remain till the day I die.” I have a great respect for the rational dimensions of life. But also a great respect for the symbolic, intuitive, spiritual, non-rational dimensions. I think the point is to bring both those dimensions together  in mutual respect and equal balance.

IH :  When someone comes to you for an astrological chart reading, what can they expect to get from it?

AW: It’s important to mention here that popular astrology as found in the media can only give a very general picture of one dimension of the person. It’s simply NOT possible for popular astrology to describe in any detail  who you are, since it focuses only on where the Sun is (ie in Pisces, Aries, Virgo etc) on your birthday. It’s like trying to tell the story of a complex play with reference to only one character on the stage.

You  can only get a view of all the characters on the stage of a client’s life from the map which you draw of the heavens at the particular TIME and PLACE, as well as DAY, of their birth.

You then use this map or Horoscope or Birth Chart as a tool to mirror back to the individual, as lucidly as you can, with as much care as you can for their sensitivity and for their level of awareness, what the different characters are on the stage of their life and how they interact with one another.

After many years of doing this professionally, I think the central thing that an individual gains from a Birth Chart reading is confirmation of who they actually are: what their  strengths and weaknesses are, what their gifts and their difficulties are. It gives them more confidence and courage to be themselves. It is a very powerful and potentially spiritual experience to have a stranger, who knows nothing of you, describe your essential qualities accurately from a map drawn of the heavens.

The other great gift that astrology can offer is that of saying: this is your moment in time, through which you are connected to a process which was unfolding aeons before you were born, and will continue long after you have departed; you are a strand in the weave of life, you have a contribution to make, using the energy that you have been given as fully and as creatively as possible.

IH : In the late 20th century we’d like to believe that  we come into this world a tabula rasa, a clean slate – and yet I have known people who have gone for Readings, eg women who have been told that they may have a series of abusive relationships with men – and this has been the case. I’m just wondering to what extent astrology can put its finger on difficulties that are in the chart ?

AW : Well, I think that it can to quite a high degree, but the astrologer has a responsibility to be very careful. With experience you get to associate certain patterns which fit inner qualities of personality and outer life events …but branches of expression of the inner core in outer life vary from person to person. This is one of the reasons why astrology drives scientifically oriented people crazy ! You cannot always generalise from specific instances. Let’s put me on the line here – I have looked at horoscopes of both men and women which have made me strongly suspect that childhood sexual abuse could be a branch arising from the  particular core pattern I am looking at – but I would never say that initially to the person.

I would  outline issues of power and control revealed by their horoscope with which it appeared they would have to deal as their life unfolded; point out that the outer world might first present them with those issues via difficulties involving dominance and control in early life with important figures. I would thus give the person the opportunity to disclose or not to disclose what had specifically happened to them.

They might ask whether that pattern could suggest sexual abuse. Then I would say yes, but it could also refer to emotional abuse, eg a parent who never laid a hand on you but found ways of intimidating or humiliating you. Then I would go on to explore the whole issue of power and control, tracking how issues arising in childhood were now manifesting in the client’s adult life. My aim would be to help the client see that there was a connection between their relationship ( perhaps largely unconscious) to issues of power and control as revealed by their horoscope, and the kinds of experiences which seemed to come their way.

I’m sure you can appreciate that this is very sensitive work, and needs to be handled with great care if the client is to be empowered by your attempts at clarification of their life pattern. And I might suggest if it seemed appropriate, that the client takes this work further and recommend a reputable counsellor/therapist with whom they might work.

IH : What do you think your job as an astrologer is ?

AW: My  job as an astrologer is not to show how clever I am – but to help other people understand themselves more clearly. I don’t know what the balance is between fate and free will any more than any one else does. But the Birth Chart suggests strongly that we come into this world, not as tabulae rasae, but with certain characters on the stage poised to live out a complex drama as the process of our life unfolds from birth to death.  What astrologers can’t do is describe the whole range of possibilities of expression  which arise from each core character on the stage.

Astrologer at Work - Mediaeval Style!
Astrologer at Work - Mediaeval Style!

There appears to be a dynamic relationship between what you have been given through family physical and psychological inheritance ( the Old Norse word for fate also means genitals!), location, social status, and your own choices  in what you do with what has been given. I think that effective astrologers in consultation are poised on the interface between fate and free will – on the one hand helping clients to confirm who they are, which they probably already know, if they are honest with themselves; but on the other hand helping them to see, and to broaden, the range of possible  expression of the energies they have been born with. My job is to send folk  out of my consulting room feeling more able to operate constructively and honestly in their world than when they came in.

The astrologer’s ego should have a minimum influence on the process. It’s impossible to keep ego completely out of it. It’s impossible to be completely objective, to avoid making mistakes; but what the person takes away should be as much theirs, and as little the astrologers, as is possible.

IH : I know that Carl Jung used to get patient’s birth charts done in advance of their visit to him – do you think all counsellors should do that ?

AW: ( (laughs) You’re asking me some very searching questions, Ian. I appreciate them though! I have an advantage in answering this. I work as an astrologer, but I also work as a counsellor. I keep the two activities separate. I work with what my counselling clients bring to me, and we gradually discover and unfold things, until that person is happy to go away with what it is they have discovered through the work we’ve done.

If a counselling client is  interested in the spiritual and symbolic levels of life, this usually comes out at some point in the counselling process……if I feel that person would be helped by, or open to an astrology reading, then I’ll  suggest it. I recommend from the very small group of astrologers in this area who have qualifications from the Faculty of Astrological Studies, as I do, and operate within the Faculty’s code of ethics and practice. The client can then bring back, if they wish, some of the clarification gained from their reading, and if appropriate we will work with that. So yes, I think astrology can complement the therapeutic process in some instances.

IH :  Could you  say more about how you work, and where you see the counselling dimension fitting in ?

AW : About half my  astrological work is with new clients, and half with people who return. Both counsellors and astrologers need good counselling skills, the counsellor using those skills in the therapeutic process over time with their clients; the astrologer certainly needs good counselling skills in the here and now, even if they never see that person again…. particularly if they never see that person again ! I don’t do ongoing weekly or monthly work with my astrology clients. We have an initial reading – then if the person wishes to take it further, I encourage them to go away and think about it, listen to the tape, and call me if they wish to explore some of the themes in more detail. Or the client may make a return appointment at the time of the initial reading.

So I sometimes do two, three or four sessions, spread over a period of months, with one person. I have a male client in his forties who refuses to go into counselling, preferring to come to me for some astrological work twice a year, identifying areas he can work with from one six month visit to another. He has found this way of working very helpful for him.

If it is evident at an initial reading that the client wants and needs to do some follow-up work on areas of pain or concern, I usually recommend them on – sometimes to counsellors, other times to an acupuncture therapist, a massage therapist, or specialists in homeopathy, herbalism, naturopathy, etc. It is important for astrologers to have a good referral system of reputable colleagues. I will do some follow-up work with astrology clients as already described – but if there seems to be a long-term therapeutic journey indicated, I prefer to refer them on.

IH : What are your reasons for doing that ?

AW:  One of the many things that astrology has taught me is respect for process. Any process has its own timing; it likes not to be hurried, pushed, or interfered with. Having an astrology reading done is such a radical and powerful thing that it takes some time to digest the implications of what’s been said and to incorporate some of it into one’s life. Having repeated astrological work  done – this is MY view and I’m not speaking for anyone but myself – can perhaps be too much, can overload the client…..and perhaps push the process on too fast. This is why I prefer people to go and work with other therapists.

Maybe once a year  or couple of years they can come to me, to take stock of where they are from a symbolic perspective. Also if they wish, to look at how the unfolding energy patterns of the coming year link with their particular Horoscope, so that they can gain some idea of what the main themes are for further work. It must be very evident from all I’ve said to date that I’m only interested in working with folk who are prepared to take responsibility for themselves. Astrology appropriately used  should enhance the sense of personal responsibility – not take it away and hang it on the planets, or even worse, on the astrologer !

I think it’s important for people not to become too dependent on a symbolic context – astrology and astrologers like relationships, drugs, sex, alcohol or the national lottery can become highly addictive. So I think it is important as an astrologer to support the other person’s courage to lead their own life, using their own judgement, with minimum help from outside sources. If any of  my clients consulted me to discuss when they should  get a haircut, or  whether to take their holiday in August or January, then my response would be to take myself immediately into therapy to examine why I was producing such a high level of dependency. The great symbolic arts, eg astrology, tarot, palmistry , I Ching, should in my opinion should be consulted with great respect, and with  considerable restraint.

Part Two follows shortly

2700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page