The Multidimensional Nature of the Astrological Symbols
Recently I reread the definition of Evolutionary Astrology formulated by Steven Forrest and Jeffrey Wolf Green, and was stricken by idea #5:
…human beings interact creatively and unpredictably with their birthcharts; that all astrological symbols are multi-dimensional and are modulated into material and psychic expression by the consciousness of the individual.
I was stricken because misconceptions related to these ideas inform the majority of the skeptical responses I encounter when people learn that I’m an astrologer.
Astrology is a symbolic language. It’s spoken on multiple levels at once, and each individual symbol discussed operates on multiple levels. The pop astrology we’re all familiar with treats the astrological symbols literally, and it’s one of the reasons astrology gets a bad rap. If a Mercury retrograde period is said to involve machinery breaking down, people who are told and believe that the symbols of astrology are literal will think that astrology itself is bunk if machinery doesn’t break down in their immediate environment. When people can come to understand the rich nature of the symbols and the possibilities of how they interact, however, astrology can begin to make sense in a more profound way, and its uses as a therapeutic language can in turn become evident.
Those working with the symbols as symbols often walk an uphill road when communicating the nature of the work they do to those familiar with only the pop versions of it. People who expect to hear that Mercury is machines and communication can be surprised to find that it’s also perception, curiosity & exploration, business transactions, young people, siblings, travel, and nervous, chatty and hyperanalytical behavior – among other things.
Additionally, those exposed to astrology along forensic lines are also likely to retain a narrow view, and at worst, walk away with a limited view of the entire field. By forensics I mean the analysis following major world events, or the investigation of celebrities’ charts in order to understand why they’ve behaved the way they have, or why they died the way they did. That kind of work is akin to predictive work, which also misses the mark of meaningfulness, and for the same reason: We can’t tell from a chart what a person will do. Each person at all times has choice, and so to predict what someone will choose is I suppose at most an entertaining game, and to look after the fact to determine why someone did what they did answers nothing definitively. It isolates sets of symbols and assumes to assign definitive meanings based on the outcome. Did she overdose because transiting Mars was triggering her natal T-square involving Moon and Mars? because that Pluto-in-the-10th wounding finally caught up with her and she’d had enough? because Chiron was squaring her Saturn and opposing her Pluto? Maybe, maybe not – perhaps it was all of these things or none of them.
Something important to remember is that we’re working with a finite number of symbols used to explain the whole of life: 12 signs, 12 houses and planets (including any number of smaller bodies and points. At this point I use up to 23 bodies/points, depending on the client’s issues – some use more, some use less). For some it’s not surprising that so few symbols should cover the whole of what it means to live on earth (well, if there are only so many of them, the thought goes, of course they would cover a lot of ground each), but as astrology’s still coming out of the dark closet it was in for several hundred years, the standard perceptions are still oriented toward reinforcing or supporting a Saturnine vision of what we as humans essentially are. In other words, in order to sound good to the majority of people in Western cultures, astrology needs to be heard to be underlining the reductive, box-making, category-forcing, conformist energy we in this Saturnian culture experience on a day-to-day basis – so we shouldn’t be surprised that astrological symbols are expected to operate only on literal levels.
If we expect to use astrology in meaningful ways, however, imagination is called for. It is true that astrological symbols manifest in our lives literally in our physical world, at the same time that they manifest in other ways. But here’s something: Can you see one thing in two ways at once? Are you prepared to in part shift from your left brain, the data bank in these days typically assumed to be the only necessity to speak astrology, to your right, in order to use both? If you are, you’ll be stepping into a relationship with the symbols of astrology that expands and deepens each time you spend time with any of them.
Using both parts of our mental faculties is really the key here. In another application it’s referred to as symbolic sight: the ability to see a situation or event at the same time as the energetic or spiritual cause behind it. When using symbolic sight, things are seen in terms of cause and effect, but the non-literal side of things is pulled in, something that can leave a one with a facts-only mental filter spinning with disbelief, dissatisfaction, or both. I don’t wish to argue how we should or shouldn’t think, operate in or navigate our worlds, but from my experience, I offer that using our intuition in conjunction with what our computer brains can do is the way to make astrology relevant to people as a therapeutic language.
Let’s look at an example of a symbol operating in multiple dimensions: Jupiter in the 1st house. The fundamental line on this placement is that, independent of other factors in the chart, the body and/or the personality will have the urge to be big, or, more likely, utterly gigantic. In other words, the self needs to expand and take up a lot of room. This will be manifest in some way, and looking at the chart alone cannot tell you what will be a literal manifestation of this energy in a person’s life. It’s true that some people with this placement have larger bodies, whether from large frame/musculature or from extra weight, or both. It’s true that some with this placement have joy and generosity pouring out of them such that they’d be prime candidates to replace Santa Claus upon his retirement. It’s true that some of these people are zealous, boastful and/or optimistic, at times to their own detriment.
All of these manifestations are possibilities for the person to express the energy of Jupiter’s bigness in their person, but none of them are automatic expressions of Jupiter’s bigness. None of these is guaranteed to be. Astrology is a science built upon observation, and traits like those listed above were part of the ongoing observation that defined the subject. So they do tell a part of the story on one level, but not on multiple levels; they don’t help anyone gain meaning.
The need for meaning is natural to the human animal, and astrology is (rightly) seen as a way to gain it. Pop versions of astrology, however, often disappoint because they offer simplified versions of any- and everything. I offer that people intrigued by astrology expect it to either offer or be a doorway to meaning, looking outwardly in order to learn to look inwardly. The best thing that astrologers can do as counselors and teachers is to use the language of astrology with clients and students in ways that support their searches for meaning, and reinforcing stereotypes of the symbols and teaching them as operating on a single level cannot do that.
The latter part of the 5th section of the definition of evolutionary astrology inspiring this writing says that various expressions of symbols are due to the consciousness of the individual. In terms of discussing Jupiter in the 1st house, Jupiter energy exists, will be carried in the body and personality, and expressed as a result of the consciousness of the individual. This means the amount of consciousness we allow (how aware do we wish to be of some fact), as well as the fact that our choice operates on various levels, at the simplest division being that of conscious and unconcsious. Conscious choice can take the form of choosing to be loud to express the energy, requiring being the center of attention, or choosing to be a body builder because the feeling of being and getting large is enjoyed. Unconscious choice here could be finding some way to express the energy if there’s stifling in the environment, or could echo expressions of the energy from scenarios in past lives. Overeating or serious risk-taking could be unconscious expressions of this energy, expressions which we might think twice about if we were to understand what’s going on behind the scenes.
The energy is there and will be expressed, and that’s all we can know about it. In the therapeutic context, this comes into play when we talk about what I call prescriptions. The energies of our lives are running as they are, and if we don’t like how something is going, we very often have the option of altering our choices or behavior in order to redirect the energy in question. Questions about this idea form the bulk of the second most common set of objections/misunderstandings to astrology that I encounter, especially when dealing with Jyotish, the ancient astrology of the Indian subcontinent. Its language is often taken by Western ears to be fatalistic, but what isn’t widely understood by the brains next to those ears is that there is a host of remedial measures for whatever’s going on, most of which unfortunately strike us as superstitious: the wearing of certain gemstones, the chanting of mantras, the offering of certain foods at certain times and others. A few years ago during a reading a Jyotishi prescribed me a mantra on Saturn, as that planet is for me in Jyotish the most important influence and my astrologer saw that strengthening my relationship with Saturn would be a way to turn around some things in my life that had been difficult, and at first I balked. More than a year later, I came to understand more about the relationships between the symbols in charts and the manifestations of the energies in the chart holder’s life, and I chanted the Saturn mantra twenty-three thousand times, the prescribed number for that mantra. By chanting, I re-formed my relationship with the Saturn energy in me and eased some serious blocks that had felt to me like a plague at various times in my life.
The prescriptions I offer aren’t from or adapted from Jyotish but operate along the same lines: The energy is there and needs to be used – are you willing to work a little bit to change how it’s working? In my work, planets in the first house are the primary targets for prescriptions, though not the only ones. This is because the 1st house contains energy we’re carrying of which we’re maybe not entirely aware; we’re carrying the energy in our person. Once someone is made aware of the fact of carrying it, managing it gets easier, but without awareness of it, there’s little likelihood that it will be managed.
A client with Mars-Chiron in Aries in the 1st house came to me with the problem of inappropriately expressed anger – temper tantrums. We worked with the whole chart, but I gave him a prescription specifically for his Mars in the 1st: daily physical exercise, even when he doesn’t want to. That energy needs to move! Exercise isn’t the direct answer to tunring around the energy behind temper tantrums, but if he didn’t get used to using and moving this significant energy on a regular basis, the chances of success in learning to manage it would be slim (if the Mars energy is being held in, it will come out any way it can, and in what feels like a crisis, no perspective can be had). In his case, working the Mars energy regularly helps heal the issues of his Chiron in the 1st, and so I directed him to focus on his Mars to get the ball rolling. Since then he’s reported several times that he’s now more aware of the energy that builds up in him and is learning to work with it, and when he feels an buildup of that Mars energy, he knows more about what to do so he doesn’t feel compelled to express it in a tantrum.
Another client, with Jupiter-Neptune conjunct the North Node in the 1st, came to me with a desire to shift the focus of her work in a more spiritual dimension, but with the concern that doing spiritual work does not offer opportunity enough to earn more money than just what is necessary to survive (after being successful in business for many years, she wasn’t willing for the transition to spiritual work to mean a renunciation of her lifestyle). The work with her centered on understanding that the energy of the high priestess is there, and to keep herself from meaningfully expressing it (while she’d been meditating and learning about various spiritual paths for a while, meaningful to her meant as part and parcel of her place in the world – to be Jupiter-Neptune in all areas of her life, not just at home) is to keep herself from what she’d set out as one purpose for herself (these bodies being conjunct the North Node). So, she was aware that she had this energy, but the resistance to truly inhabiting it, or maybe allowing it to truly inhabit all of her life, kept her from a fulfillment she deeply desired. Her prescription was to trust that the community will find a way to support the high priestess, after she commits to inhabiting the role and relates to the community in that way.
But there are prescriptions to be made even when 1st house planets are not in question. Any time that someone presents with an issue that fits the archetypes and symbolism of any particular planet or other body, something can be done – understanding can be increased. Always there are ways to alter how energy works, as long as there is willingness on the part of the client to change. Though to be fair, it’s not often that a client who is unwilling to change comes to see me. It tends to be true that when someone is ready for an evolutionary reading, he or she is ready for a change.