Astrology and Karma
Or, Karma Doesn’t Have to be a Bad Word
One of the ideas on which evolutionary astrology is predicated is that this life is one of many, and eventually, a lot of people speaking evolutionary astrology end up talking about karma. But our conceptions of karma tend to be skewed: Karma is not the zero-sum game we might expect it to be (where there is guaranteed to be winners and losers); there is no angry god waiting to get even with us for our transgressions, or to reward us for our good actions.
The general representation of karma in our collective social mind seems to be that if something good happens to us, it must be from good karma (that we did something good in the past) and if something bad, well, you know the rest. So that if a piano falls on you, it’s probably because you wouldn’t give change to the homeless person who asked you three minutes prior, or because you wouldn’t hold the elevator for that lady running through the lobby this morning. But as De Fouw and Svoboda point out in Light on Life, the law of karma is another way of stating Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “For every action there is an equal an opposite reaction.” Contrary to the pop idea, though, the reaction doesn’t come necessarily in immediate or obvious form, and doesn’t look like tit-for-tat, but can take an infinite range of forms and come to one over a period of multiple lives.
Taking this out of that framework, though, it translates to say simply that what you do matters. It can be difficult to admit that what we do matters to such a great degree (otherwise, how could we justify not helping people we knew needed help?, etc.). In my conversations with different sorts of people about this, I see one reaction to this idea being an extreme stance that it must then follow that the future of the universe is our responsibility and hangs in the balance with each of our actions. Not so, and an alternative, productive reaction would be to be more aware of what it is that we do, and why. If you observe your behavior over time, and gain awareness of the overall general attitude you display, you’ll notice that the more negative energy you put out, the more you get back. This, the day-to-day, moment-to-moment feedback of what we’re doing, is the simplest level at which karma operates.1 My mother says this when she says, “What goes around comes around.”
When we talk of karma in evolutionary astrology, we don’t generally speak in terms of good and bad (though we acknowledge the emotional impact experiences can have on us – evolutionary astrologers are humans). The evolutionary astrology paradigm was in part developed in response to the value judgment woven into a portion of contemporary astrology (the portion the general public is exposed to most frequently), as a recognition that growth is impeded by the introduction of value judgment. In this way of thinking, we look at the course of study, the syllabus, a soul is pursuing, and the life experiences of the individual attributable to karma are viewed in terms of the experiences the soul is interested in having, for whatever reason and to whatever end. The experiences we’d call bad are part of the program: If you sign up for a course in any particular energy, over many lifetimes you will expose yourself to all manner of forms of that particular energy. For instance, if you sign up for a course of study in Jupiter, you’ll experience (internally and externally) healthy and unhealthy amounts of pride, confidence, intuition, righteousness, preachyness – over time, the entire gamut of Jupiterian experience. We don’t as a rule need to experience all the bad, but when we toss in free will on top of the syllabus, it’s easy to guess that each of us in the long run will make our share of choices that lead us to the negative experiences as well as the positive.
So, when we look at our lives as explorations of different sides of themes (Jupiter, etc.), what is perceived as bad can be seen to be in actuality helpful to the overall path. But we’re out of that habit; the notion of multiple lives simply isn’t a part of the way most of us see things.2 It’s too bad, because the framework of multiple lives offers support for intensity of the habits, desires and fears we find operating so strongly in our lives.
II. Why Do Things Happen? (or, Why Me, [name of deity]?)
So, your house burns down. Is it karma? It could be (but it wouldn’t be a punishment, even if it seems like it). You might have on your syllabus natally or by transit learning about the true meaning of security (Moon/Cancer/4th house), or rootlessness/exploration (Jupiter/Sagittarius/9th house). Or maybe for you it’s about survival, the skills you need to make it in the world and in life (Venus/Taurus/2nd house), or gaining a true understanding of fairness and cooperation (Venus/Libra/7th house). From the evolutionary view, there are many reasons why things happen, and each of us will have unique (chart) indicators natally and by transit/progression/solar arc for each person’s unique syllabus.3
The following table lists what the experience of losing their home to a fire might serve in a person’s soul syllabus through the archetypes of the zodiac. Keep in mind that the column at left is to be considered in terms of natal configurations, transit, progressions and solar arcs. Entries in the column at right are intentionally broad so that the core of the issue at hand, the essential juice of the archetype, can be obvious. The table is offered as a starting place for analysis; each chart has to be analyzed on its own and in full to make true use of astrology.
Type of Experience Desired by the Soul that a Burning House could serve (Impetus)
Spring into action, regain connection to instinct
Reconfigure value system
Open to perceive new realities or facts of real life/environment
Learn what one truly needs
Revivify or recenter self
Take control of life
Co-operation with others
Let go of what doesn’t serve, reinvent the self
Impetus to explore new ways of being
Opportunity to get to work to rebuild the life
Break out of routines, shift focus to be more authentic
Trust in a higher purpose, surrender to the flow of events and time
Knowing that there’s a soul-syllabus reason for such occurrences doesn’t of course take away the pain, grief and challenges associated with them. But pain is a part of life, and when your soul signed up to wear a monkey suit for another round down here, it knew that it’s part of the game. In this kind of situation, the best use of astrology I can see is in increasing understanding of why things happen (what on the soul level is trying to be accomplished), offering the potential for some measure of peace and ultimately opening the door to see options for the best course of action to take next. The next best action would, incidentally, depend on the analysis of the entire chart, as each person’s prescription in a time of such crisis would vary (other than taking care of the immediate, primary needs of all affected by the fire).
So, if such an experience can be attributed to karma, it doesn’t mean that the person’s previous incarnation had set fire to someone’s home in the karmic past, subject to the same treatment doled out. While Newton’s Third Law of Motion seems a clear statement to the contrary, and in one sense is, our notion of karma in order to be useful must not be so rigid. Anecdotally I’ve heard several times that Jeff Green, when talking about karmic relationships, commented once that you can take care of many of your karmic relationship debts in a few minutes over a cup of coffee – you don’t have to be married to him for 20 years.
III. Relationships (of, What Did I Ever do to YOU?!)
Which is a good segue to the notion of relationship karma. People are fascinated by the possibility that people they meet and are involved with might be contacts from past lives, and some tend to believe that the film of amorousness they’re viewing things through is a sure indication that they’ve met that special someone before. Many of the people important to us in this life are indeed relatives, loved ones, and friends, rivals, antagonists and enemies from previous lives. The basic idea is that the soul of one person has what I think of as a pending transaction with the soul of another person. That transaction could be major or minor, and there’s no hard and fast rule about where the line is drawn and, in truth, it doesn’t matter. If there’s business with another person to be done, and it’s time for each of them to do it, it’ll happen one way or another.
How much about the karma of relationships can be seen in charts? As with individual stories, the stories between the charts of two people speak of themes and opportunities; they offer nothing literal. I’ve heard a lot of people say that when Saturn,4 or the South Node of the Moon, is involved that the relationship is karmic, but the evolutionary paradigm treats everything as karmic, and within it the stories can be seen to be much richer than in a traditional astrological paradigm.
Let’s take Saturn and the South Node of the Moon in a couple’s charts. One’s Saturn is on the other’s South Node. For any person, the South Node of the Moon indicates the sorts of environments we’re accustomed to from having lived in them in the karmic past. For any person, Saturn indicates the discipline, work, and authority function. Putting them together, on the most basic level we have the Saturn person’s sense of discipline sharing a resonance with the South Node person’s comfort zone, and the other way around.
What we can’t tell from charts alone is whether the Saturn person will experience the South Node person as tired and dull, or familiar and comforting. Or if the South Node person will experience the Saturn person as overbearing and suffocating or calming and worthy of respect. Again, what can be seen in the charts is that there would be a Saturn-South Node resonance, but not the quality of that resonance. That’s up to the two people (informed by the attitudes, habits and expectations of the environments in which they were raised, the rest of their lives and their free will).
IV. Karma Doesn’t Have to be a Bad Word
Karma isn’t as simple as many of us have been taught to thought. There are different kinds, shades of grey that from slightly different perspectives would be anything but, and no definitive answers available in astrological charts. The confusion (and frustration) surrounding integrating the concept into our thinking is to be suspected: It’s borrowed from another culture, one whose infrastructure is built around it. The part of ourselves seeking meaning can gain a lot from working with appropriate notions of karma, if we can work on a deeper level than where most of our culture seems to file the concept.
1. De Fouw and Svoboda delineate the four kinds of karma; for a full explanation, see Light on Life, pp. 24-28.
2. Personally speaking, I have come up with no other explanation as to why evolutionary astrology strikes people as meaningfully as it does. A lot of people sense that there’s more happening than just what they sense in this single lifetime, and people who come in to work with me find a great deal of comfort in learning the context for their issues, the reasons behind the weighty things on their minds. Of course, talk of multiple lives isn’t necessary to an evolutionary astrology reading – the reading can be framed in terms of tendencies, inclinations, strengths and challenges of the person’s life.
3. A common misconception in astrology that deserves note here is mistaking the particular for the general. If we accept astrology as valid, we probably think of it as a science, but we can’t reconcile its difference with the physical and natural sciences we’re taught, that employ the scientific method and depend on repeatable process to verify results.
If, for instance, a person’s house burned down and she was experiencing a transit of Pluto to her natal Moon, each Pluto-to-Moon transit cannot be said to manifest in burning houses, or, even, in loss of property or dangerous circumstances. One thing I notice folks spending a lot of time on forensic astrology (my term for examining transits and such after a noteworthy event has occurred) is that it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that the symbols of astrology are just that; nothing in astrology can be taken literally. Pluto energy is that of transformation (which can include various sorts of deaths and rebirths), and Moon energy is that of emotional needs, feelings, security and rootedness. Phoenix-like behavior from the person or a parent, or the literal death of a parent fits the symbolism, as does a reorientation of one’s close relationships to better provide what one needs, a fundamental shift in what one needs, and some kind of environmental challenge to something that the person feels is important to him or her.
4. Saturn is said to be indicative of the work that we have to do in this lifetime, as well as being Father Time (his original name was Kronos and he rules over time).