Read an Excerpt
Astrology for Lovers
By LIZ GREENE
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1986 Liz Greene
All rights reserved.
Why, queries Woody Allen in the film Annie Hall, do we bother with such problematic, complicated, tortuous things as relationships? Why make the effort to learn something about, care for, give to, take from, cherish, fight, love other human beings? Woody Allen answers his own question with a joke:
My brother has gone crazy. He thinks he's a chicken. Then why don't you commit him? Because I need the eggs, says Woody. Relationships are something like that.
It's certainly fashionable at the moment, in some parts of society, to abandon the often outmoded values of our parents and grandparents. For one thing, it's obvious to a lot of people that they haven't worked; the marriages of the past were no better than the marriages of the present. There were fewer divorces, of course; but then you had two people living side by side until death did them part who filled the house with silent enmity and poison that caused not a few psychological conflicts in their children. Even if you don't 'believe' in psychology, it's sadly apparent that the modern family unit needs a little refurbishing if it's to continue to exist at all. Have a look at a few divorce statistics.
Now, along with the state of the economy, the dangers of nuclear destruction, the energy crisis, the overpopulated and undervalued earth, the endangering of animals (and humans) and the other favourite nightmares of this, the dawn of what astrology calls the Aquarian Age, we also have a big problem with human relationships. This is attributable to various things, depending on your viewpoint. Morals are collapsing, not enough good old-fashioned discipline, not enough faith in God and the Catholic Church, not enough faith in God and the Anglican Church, sexual repression, capitalism, communism, and any other scapegoat you care to think of that will exonerate you, or me, from taking responsibility for our own messes. In an age of superlative technology where, for the first time, millions can purchase a little leisure, millions of people also, desperate to understand why everything is so damned meaningless and why they're so lonely, turn to disciplines and beliefs so ardent that we can't even fathom their origins. What are now known as esoteric studies are slowly but steadily encroaching on the domain once held tightly in the grip of orthodox religion.
The word 'esoteric' simply means 'inner'. 'Esoteric' can refer to a lot of different things, from the Maharishi and Transcendental Meditation, to the Children of the Temple of God in Guyana. Esoteric studies can range from the ridiculous to the sublime. They can plumb ancient and learned treatises on alchemy, magic, Hermetic philosophy and the kaballah. They can explore mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle. Inner is about parapsychological phenomena, dreams, visions, altered states of consciousness. It's about synchronistic phenomena, precognitive dreams, telepathy, clairvoyance. It's also about depth psychology, the study of the human soul. And it can also be about astrology.
Can astrology – familiar to us all through that silly but irresistible column in the daily newspaper wherein Madame Somebody-or-other tells one that Wednesday will be a rotten day – possibly contribute anything at all to our dilemma of living on an overpopulated planet where we must rub shoulders (and souls) with all those strangers?
Lately, there has been a good deal of public outcry from academia against astrology as well as from the scientific community at large; which has apparently got a little frightened by its popularity. (After all, if there's something mysterious about life which orthodox science can't answer, what sort of world do we live in?) But no matter how strenuously it's proclaimed that astrology is really a load of medieval superstitious nonsense, belief in it is spreading. Once upon a time everyone read those ubiquitous sun sign columns with tongue-in-cheek, laughing all the while – still secretly wondering whether Wednesday really would be a rotten day and heaving a sigh of relief when it wasn't. (Irresistible, that stuff. It touches close to the bone of that favourite of all human pastimes – reading about oneself.) But no one would dare admit – especially a rational person like yourself – that there might be anything in it. Granted, there were some fairly respectable folk like Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Carl Jung who dabbled in it. But for the most part, if you did read a book on astrology, you wrapped it in a plain brown cover so as not to be thought an eccentric. Better you should be caught reading Playboy!
Then a persistent Frenchman named Michel Gauquelin arrived, and decided that he would disprove once and for all astrology's ludicrous claims. He launched a massive statistical project, accumulating thousands of horoscopes of people working in various professions to see if the evidence showed any correlation at all between those bits of rock orbiting out in space and our ordinary human lives. And, lo and behold, Monsieur Gauquelin found to his horror and astonishment that, far from proving astrology's definitive irrelevance, he had proved that it worked.
From the time of M. Gauquelin's findings (which he duly published in the form of several very impressive books) astrology has at last begun to earn a modicum of respect from academic quarters. It's also begun to infiltrate some places where you wouldn't have expected to find it, like universities and psychiatrists' offices. It's used by the American and Israeli governments, and possibly a few more – we don't really know. It's used by businesses for employment decisions. It's used by doctors for diagnosis. And at long last it's being used for the real purpose for which it exists: for each person to learn something about themselves because in learning about themselves they no longer vent their own problems and difficulties on the people around them.
Before the temple of the oracle at Delphi, the ancient Greeks – who were by no means fools – had two pieces of advice carved on the portals. One was, 'Nothing in excess'. The other was, 'Know thyself'.
The first instruction is much subtler than it sounds. It doesn't just mean curb excessive behaviour. It also means don't be lopsided. And lopsidedness – the over-emphasis on one way of looking at life and people – is a propensity we all share. Astrology has a lot to say about lopsidedness. By learning something about your own astrological makeup, you can see pretty quickly just how one-sided your own view of reality is.
The second instruction is easy enough to understand. It's much more difficult to follow. On any journey, inner or outer, we need road maps. Outer road maps are plentiful enough. Inner ones aren't. Astrology is an inner road map.
If you really think the solution to the problem of relationships lies in things 'out there' in society, look again. It may just lie in ourselves, in our ways of dealing with our lopsidedness and our lack of self knowledge. How in the world can you possibly expect to get on with somebody else when you don't even know who you yourself are?
And if you think astrology is a pretty abstruse way of attempting to get insight into one's own behaviour and motives, read on.
What a horoscope can and can't tell you
First things first. Please put away that newspaper sun sign column. Yes, I know that's what you thought astrology was about. But that's like assuming the entire world of music, ranging from Beethoven to Pythagoras' Music of the Spheres, can be encapsulated in an advertising jingle of ten notes. To understand astrology, we must first learn something about its roots and its meaning.
The symbolism of astrology is an attempt to portray – in pictorial rather than conceptual form – the basic energies behind life and behind human beings. It's very ancient;so ancient that we don't know its origins. We know that the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Sumerians, Chaldeans, Indians and Chinese used it. Also, a little careful scholarly research has revealed that there are similarities between the 'study of the stars' in every ancient civilization, even when there could have been no conceivable link between these disparate cultures. And we know that this incredibly old portrayal of the forces of life is still as alive and fascinating today as it was five thousand years ago.
Why a pictorial language? A fair question, since we live in a scientific age and are taught that there must be a rational, conceptual answer for every one of life's puzzles. But science is in fact ill equipped to explain many of life's mysteries, since these mysteries are non-rational in nature. They can be understood, felt, intuited, imagined, glimpsed through the language of image, metaphor, parable, symbol, myth. But to try to define them in easy sentences like a multiple-choice question in an IQ test is downright ridiculous. After all the explanations of the biological processes of conception and birth, do we know any more about where life comes from? Can we comprehend the mystery of death? How about electricity, which we all use, and which has been harnessed for our comfort and convenience. What is it? We still don't know. In fact, we don't really know what 'matter' is. In quantum physics, one of the most sophisticated contemporary disciplines, they have begun to observe that in any scientific experiment involving sub-atomic particles, the experimenter and the experiment affect each other. This means – astonishingly enough – that so-called 'objective' matter is no longer objective, since it's intimately bound up with the psyche of the observer. Matter, in the end, is as mysterious to us as spirit. Maybe it's a reasonable idea to learn a little humility in this arrogant age, and recognize that we know precious little about the universe in which we live. Nature is jealous of its mysteries. Just when we think we've explained it, it produces something which baffles the most sophisticated intellect. Like astrology.
Astrology is baffling because it works. So, what, in fact, is a horoscope?
What it's not is a way of foretelling the future, or of determining whether that tall dark stranger will turn up next week. Definitions first. A birth horoscope is a map of the heavens – the solar system, to be precise – at the exact moment, day and year of birth. It is a map, pure and simple, relating the positions of the eight known planets, sun and moon to the horizon and meridian of the earth. And it's precise astronomy that can't be faulted from the astronomer's point of view.
The zodiac is a circle or band which is really the apparent path of the sun around the earth. Yes, we know perfectly well the sun doesn't go around the earth. But it appears as though it does, and its path is called the ecliptic. Astrology divides this circle of the ecliptic into twelve equal-sized pie slices. The astrological year begins around the twentieth of March, the occurrence of the vernal equinox. That starts the zodiacal sign of Aries. Your birth sign or sun sign is the part of the zodiac in which the sun is passing during the thirty days of your sign.
This is where sun sign columns end. If you're born on 18 April, you're an Aries. If you're born on 4 September, you're a Virgo. But that's just the beginning. We forgot the moon and the eight planets. They too are important, and part of the horoscope. So the astrologer plots where each of these heavenly bodies falls in reference to the zodiacal band. Finally, he needs to know the time of birth, so that he can work out what sign of the zodiac is rising in the east at the moment of birth. Presto. A horoscope. What can it tell us?
A lot. To put it briefly and succinctly, the horoscope is a map of the psyche of the individual. It's a kind of blueprint, a seed plan, a model of the energies and drives which make up any person. Because it's calculated precisely for time and place, it's unique, unlike the sun sign column. Even identical twins are born at least four minutes apart, and in four minutes the picture has shifted.
Annoyingly, few people in England know the exact moment of their birth. It's not recorded on the registration. More often, the astrologer, asking for his client's birth time, gets a reply like, 'It was around tea-time,' or 'Well, the milkman had just delivered the milk.' An approximate time must serve in these cases. The Scots are a lot smarter, and so are the French and the Americans; they record precise birth times. Perhaps one day British hospitals will as well, when it dawns on the public at large that astrology can be a very important tool for living.
The horoscope maps out the potential pattern of the individual. The operative word here is 'potential'. It's potential in the same way that an apple seed will potentially produce an apple tree. It contains the entire cycle inside it: seed, young plant, tree, flower, fruit, seed. But if you hold it in your hand, it's still only a seed. A lot can happen to a seed. Nurtured, fertilized, watered and given sufficient sunshine, it will produce a splendid tree. Neglected, it will produce far short of its potential, or may not produce it all. That's where free will comes into the picture. We are given certain potentials. What we make of them is our own business. We have the option to become ourselves in full flower, or produce a stunted tree that bears no fruit. And the gardener isn't anybody but oneself.
A lot of people are frightened of astrology because they believe it claims to predict fate. Once upon a time, during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it claimed to do precisely that. But astrology has evolved since then, just as medicine has. We in the West – unlike India – don't like to think that there's any factor shaping our lives except ourselves and the tax collector. The social sciences acknowledge a little pressure from environment, psychology from childhood. But for the most part we want to believe we're free to make choices and decisions. Any impingement on our personal freedom is acceptable only if it comes in a recognizable form, like bad weather, or the 'act of God' as it's called in insurance policies. We call those accidents. And when something happens that we can't control, we whinge and moan a lot. Particularly if it's another person that we can't control: the child who grows up differently from our original plan, the husband who leaves, the wife who decides not to be submissive and adoring any more, the mother who interferes, the boss who doesn't appreciate our work. We don't see these unpleasant intrusions as fate, we see them as nuisances, obviously due to the stupidity of others, and we do our best to eradicate the cause, which is naturally the fault of the other person.
But is it really the fault of the other? And how free are we? Astrology offers a humble suggestion. Numerous poets, philosophers, and psychologists have offered the same suggestion in different languages throughout the centuries. Here are Rainer Maria Rilke's words for it:
What is within surrounds us.
Remember that quote. It's crucial to the understanding not only of astrology, but of relationships as well. In fact, we might go so far as to say that it's crucial to understanding life. The inner stuff of which a person is made – the emotions, drives, desires, fantasies, dreams, conflicts, loves, hatreds, talents – is like a magnet, or like the musical note of a tuning fork. It resonates to its pitch outside, attracts substance to itself from the world which is the same kind of substance. Carl Jung puts it another way. He says:
A man's life is characteristic of himself.
So what happens to you – in personal life, that is, since we're not at this point considering what happens to the great collectives like races and nations – is in some way a reflection, a symbolic portrait, of something in yourself.
Now you know why the Greeks carved 'Know thyself' by the temple at Delphi. A lot of people find this very uncomfortable. It means we must take responsibility for what comes to us, pick up our equal share of the creation of our worlds. And it's so much nicer, so much easier, to blame someone else for the negative things, and praise ourselves for the positive ones.
Only a child expects life to be that easy. A wise person accepts what's given, and expects the rest to become what they create of it.
The horoscope describes a person's inner nature. Their life will run according to this magical (don't be afraid of the word – the law of attraction is one of the basic principles of magic, too, and all of life is magical) process of mutual attraction. The more unaware they are of the stuff of which they're made, the more 'fated' they are by their own inner self. They'll go on attracting things into their life for good or ill whether they care to acknowledge it or not. The more aware (or we might say conscious) they are, the more choices they have. They may not be able to change their basic substance. Remember the apple seed. It can't suddenly leap out of the core of the apple and decide it's going to be a lentil when it grows up. But an awful lot of variations can be made on one apple tree.
Excerpted from Astrology for Lovers by LIZ GREENE. Copyright © 1986 Liz Greene. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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