Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum studied Classics at Douglass College in New Jersey and Egyptology at Columbia University, and she has been researching and working with astrology for the last fifteen years. As well as being a consultant and lecturer in astrology, she is also the translator of Late Classical Astrology: Paulus Alexandrinus and Olympiodorus, with the Scholia from Later Commentators
, published by ARHAT in 2001.
During the past year and a half, she has given lectures (including appearances at Bath Spa University College and the University of Kent at Canterbury) on a range of astrologically-related subjects. A common theme in much of her work is to show, through classical scholarship, how ancient philosophy pre-figures modern developments in science and psychology, and in doing so to throw light on astrological practice.
Her book Temperament: Astrology's Forgotten Key
, has recently been published by The Wessex Astrologer (www.wessexastrologer.com
). Dorian's teaching skills encompass an unusually wide range - from relatively abstruse post-graduate and research conferences/seminars, to hands-on, introductory astrology classes. She is a co-director (with Joseph Crane) of the Astrology Institute in Lexington, MA (www.astrologyinstitute.com
), which offers a highly-praised two and a half year certificate course for both professional and avocational astrologers. She is on both the Board of Examiners and the Board of Directors of NCGR. She lives in Duxbury, MA.
Dorian's website is www.classicalastrology.org
, and she can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: I hear that you're a classical scholar with Greek, Latin, and Egyptian (languages) under your belt. Is that true?
More or less true. I would have to say that my Egyptian is somewhat rusty at the moment, having not done it since I got my Masters' degree - and that was in 1976. I taught Egyptian for a while at a Waldorf school, but it was only to 5th Grade, so we didn't get too technical!
Q: What attracted you to Egyptian in the first place?
My great-grandmother, whose sister was an astrologer, was friends with the Urlin family. Hilda Urlin married Sir Flinders Petrie, who was a rather well-known Victorian Egyptologist.
So they were all off in Egypt on a dig. Hilda's sister Amy had gone along with them, and she sent my great-grandmother a scarab from the dig. And this has been passed down in the family, and as soon as I saw it I was attracted to it. I was about 12 years old at the time.
Q: Is it made from gold and fabulously valuable?
No, I don't know if it's clay, or stone… I found out later that it was from the Hyksos era; that's the interregnum between the Middle and the New Kingdom. It was probably worth nothing in the scheme of things, but all the same, I was very intrigued. And that's how I first began to be interested in hieroglyphs, and ancient Egypt. After that, one thing just led to another.
I didn't study Egyptian as an undergraduate - I studied Classics, which was the closest thing available. But during my undergraduate years I managed to find a class in Egyptian at Columbia University. It was about an hour bus-ride from Rutgers University, which is where I was at. So in my junior year I took a class in Egyptian; I'd go in to New York on the bus every Monday, go over my homework on the bus… it was wonderful. A wonderful class, and I really liked the professor. He was very encouraging, and I ended up writing my undergraduate honours thesis on Queen Tiye who was the wife of Amenhotep III and the mother of Akhenaton. She may have been the grandmother of Tutankhamen, but the genealogy is a little fuzzy.
After that, I applied to graduate school at Columbia, and went there for my masters.
Q:You seem to have been on something of a quest to discover what was going on in Egypt. Should I see in that a desire to uncover mysteries and arcane knowledge?
Actually, no. Not then, not at all. I was really interested in the language, and in the history. I was very enamoured of the whole 18th dynasty period with Tiye, and Akhenaton, and the princesses - the whole scandal and mystery surrounding that. But my interest was historical, not at all mystical or philosophical.
In fact - I don't know if this is still true in Egyptology, but it certainly was when I was studying - anything after the 20th dynasty is looked down on; 'Oh, you want to study that era, when all the foreign influences were coming in, and everything was being corrupted?' And then the Greek period, the attitude was, 'You don't want to do that do you - that's basically Greeks, that's not even Egyptians any more'. So there's a snobbery in Egyptology, I guess.
So I really knew nothing about astrology at that time, except that when I was seventeen and into the occult in the way every teenager is into the occult, I did have a copy of 'Write Your Own Horoscope', and tried to figure my chart out from that and didn't do a very good job!
Q: So when did astrology start to figure in a serious way for you?
I'm also a singer, and after I'd moved to Massachusetts in 1986 I made a friend in a singing group that I was in. She had lots of interesting books sitting on her shelves, and one of them was Astrology, the Divine Science, by Marcia Moore and Mark Douglas. So I looked at it and said, 'Oh, this looks like an interesting book - can I borrow it?' She said, 'Sure'. I took it home, read it, and suddenly realised that there was a lot more to astrology than I had thought.
That's the book that got me really interested in learning more about it, which I did for two years after that. I had a terrible computer program (on a Commodore 64!) which did interpretations. It was garbage, really, but it did calculate the positions of the planets, which was enough to go on for two years.
Then I happened to take a class at a local new-age type place, and it was taught by Joseph Crane. I went with the friend who had lent me Astrology, the Divine Science and we thought, 'Well, if we don't like it, we can go away and never come back…' but we did like it, a lot! So that's what started me - and I was obsessed from there on in.
Q: Was it Joseph Crane who introduced you to traditional astrology?
Well, let me think how that came about. I studied with Joseph and his wife, Jill-laurie, for two years. Their school, the Astrology Institute, had a diploma, which I got. Then a year or two after that I began to teach for them. And I guess it was just by reading Mountain Astrologer, and newsletters, we got wind of Project Hindsight. Rob Hand at the time still lived in Massachusetts; add to that the fact that Joseph was a philosophy major, and I was a classics major - this seemed like something we ought to be working at.
So we got Rob to come in and do a weekend on all the stuff that he was discovering with Project Hindsight. This would have been in 1994. So Rob came in and did his weekend. I don't know about everybody else in the class, but Joseph and I were absolutely riveted. One thing led to another; through Rob we met all the other people associated with Project Hindsight, I went to two out of the three conclaves that they had, and Joseph went to all three.
And it was then that I began to realise that there might be a way in which I could mesh my - seemingly useless - degree in classics with astrology!
Q: You'd already studied Greek and Latin by this point?
Yes, I studied Greek in college - just enough to be dangerous! The Greek course I took led me to read Xenophon's Anabasis, and then Plato's Euthyphro, but I wasn't really interested in philosophy at that point. Then I read Homer…
It's not as bad as you'd think. Homer is reasonable. And there are all kinds of little books that help you with the archaic vocabulary and stuff like that.
Then I began to re-study Latin, which I'd had two years of in High School - but had dropped, because I didn't like the teacher, and was much better at French. So I took Latin 123, which was for people who did Latin a very long time ago! I did very well in that.
So most of my language study as a classics major was Latin, not Greek. That's when I was an undergraduate; when I was a graduate there was the Egyptian.
Q: Could we focus a bit on this period when you discovered the traditional approach to astrology? What was it that you liked so much about that, as opposed to what you'd learned up until that point?
Well, there were a few things.
First, the idea of sect I found very intriguing - the idea that you would look at a chart differently depending on whether the person was born during the day or at night. I thought that was really wonderful, because in modern astrology we place a lot of emphasis on the Sun as the ruling planet. Whether it's the ruling planet or not, we always look at the Sun-sign. And it's not that the Moon isn't important in modern astrology, but somehow it always seems to be very solar-oriented.
Q:It's probably no coincidence that so much of modern astrology goes back to this guy who called himself Alan Leo…
I know, I always thought that was rather amazing. So the idea that, if you had a night chart, you should really be looking at the Moon, intrigued me. It seemed to balance things in a way that I hadn't really gotten before.
Then there were the essential dignities, which I had really no knowledge of at all. I knew rulerships and exaltations, but really knew nothing of the whole essential dignities system. And, of course, at that time was still using modern rulers… (laughs) …Horrors!
So I started to study that, and started to realise something about my chart. Now, a modern astrologer would look at my chart, pat me on the shoulder kindly, and say, 'You poor thing', and 'How do you cope with that massive fixed T-square on the angles?' When really, my life hasn't been all that bad. I haven't had a huge amount of tragedy in my life, I've been married to the same man for thirty years, my children are healthy, my parents are healthy - I really don't have anything to complain about. Yet you'd think that I'd be a bag lady, looking at that chart.
When I started looking at the essential dignities system, I realised that I have a lot of very dignified planets. That, to me, seemed to go a long way towards describing how my life actually turned out. My dignified planets really provided a lot of assistance (in a symbolic way, obviously, I don't mean that literally).
That, to me, seemed to make a lot of sense. And once I'd realised the rationale behind the essential dignities, I thought it was an incredible system. Beautifully symmetrical, it made perfect sense to me. I found it very easy to give up modern rulers! Not that I don't use modern planets in my work. I do use the outer planets, but not as rulers. We tell our students, 'Do you really want them ruling anything?! Isn't it enough that there's a 700lb gorilla in the room?'
So those were two of the main things that attracted me, and then of course I got sucked in to all the other stuff - the time lord systems, and the spear bearers, and the lots. I had a good time with lots - I liked the idea of a complementary lot to the Lot of Fortune, that being the Lot of spirit. So all that stuff I found fascinating. So that's what drew me in and kept me there.
Q: What are the spear bearers?
Spear bearers are planets of the same sect rising ahead of the sun or following the Moon; sort of like heralds (in the case of the Sun) and worthy retainers (in the case of the Moon). They guard and support the expression of the Sun and the Moon.
Q: You also mentioned the lots - what particularly interests you about them, and which ones do you mainly use?
Lots - in particular the Hermetic lots - I find intriguing. First of all, you can use the lot as a sort of Ascendant, and derive houses from it - for instance, use the Lot of Fortune as your Ascendant and its sign as the first house, then the rest of the houses as whole signs from it. Valens has a technique that the 11th sign/house from the Lot of Fortune is the place of acquisition - where you will make your money. In my case, Leo is the 11th sign from Fortune, and both Mercury and the Sun are there. Mercury rules astrology, and certainly is associated with writing, and that's where I make money.
I always look at the Lot of Fortune as an indicator of the concerns of the material world, the body and the past. The Lot of Spirit is, obviously, concerned with spirit (the Greek word for this lot is Daimon), and it describes what you can become, and so is concerned not with the past but with the future (Schoener called it the Part of Future Things). For clients, I use both Lots as Ascendants to get a picture of the material, physical plane world and the spiritual, becoming, intentional world.
Now, the other Hermetic Lots each involve the other 5 visible planets and either the Lot of Fortune or Spirit projected from the Ascendant. I find it interesting that the malefics, Mars and Saturn, use Fortune; and the benefics, Venus and Jupiter, use Spirit. The Saturn Lot is Nemesis, Mars is Courage and Mercury is Necessity. Each of them uses the Lot of Fortune, and this does tie them to the physical plane. Venus's lot is the Lot of Eros, and Jupiter's is the Lot of Victory. The benefics use the Lot of Spirit, which connects them to the spiritual, intentional and conscious. I think we can see a connection to the future in both of these lots, one of which is about the transcending power of love, and the other about success through intentional action.
Q: There's so much to talk about there. But just going back to a comment you made a few minutes ago, I must ask - on behalf of anyone reading this who has no dignified planets - is it their destiny to be a bag lady?
You'll have to excuse me, I do tend to exaggerate! No, of course not. In a way I was being facetious about that. In my practice, if I came across someone with no dignified planets, of course I wouldn't wonder how they possibly manage to get through the day. Because, clearly, most people do just fine. So no, I was being simplistic.
Q: How do you work with this in practice? Let's say you have one client with lots of dignified planets, then another with none; how does this affect the way you approach these people and their charts?
Planetary dignities are really interesting, I think, because it's not that they make a planet stronger (that would depend more on its house placement), but that they make it more authentic, more able to be itself easily. A dignified Sun finds it easier to be solar. So someone with a lot of dignified planets might find it easier to work with the expression of those planets in a conventional way - for instance, with a Mercury in Virgo, they would probably find it easier to think in a linear, rational, analytical fashion, and, and appreciate educational methods that supported that. Whereas someone with Mercury in Pisces (which is both in detriment and fall) is probably not going to enjoy thinking linearly - they would prefer to go off on tangents, and use their imaginations more, and think 'out of the box.' So I would take those differences in dignity into account as I talked to them.
Q: Maybe we could look at an example here? I'm wondering about Bill Clinton's chart, where the Sun and Venus are in their rulership, Moon is exalted, and the only planets in detriment are Mars (which is very weak, and is right on his ascendant) and Saturn (not so weak, but interesting that it rules his 5th house - the house of romance and affairs).
I find it fascinating that Clinton's malefic planets are the ones weak in essential dignity, while his other planets are quite strong essentially. His Mars, especially, is very debilitated - it's really a Mars trying to behave like Venus, and so going against its essential nature, a nature which it doesn't understand and which gets it into a lot of trouble. And right on the Ascendant, so accidentally dignified, does not help his Mars; it just makes its inadequacies that much more prominent. But even in spite of his Mars, Clinton is still in his marriage and, we can hope, has learned from his experiences.
We should remember that an undignified planet isn't necessarily a 'bad' planet - it's a planet that has trouble behaving as it should - which could, in fact, be fine for the person who has the chart. Sometimes we can get a little too hung up on 'good' placements/planets and 'bad' - forgetting that we are dealing with a real person here, who may very well be living a quite contented and fulfilling life, no matter what the state of their planets!
Q: For the practitioner of modern astrology who is reading this, what would you recommend them to look at in order to get an idea of what they're missing by not using traditional astrology? Even (playing devil's advocate a little) to convince them that the traditional approach is better?
Well, I'm in two minds here. Because I really do think that there's something about the practice of astrology that allows for multiple paths. So I'm not sure that I'd want to make a value-judgement about traditional being 'better'. Some other people might very well do that. But I think an important part of one's astrological practice is understanding what works for you, and what you resonate to.
So for me, it's more the traditional approach - with some of the modern things still in there, because I'm a modern person. I'm living in this world. Even though I would certainly tend to agree with Bob Zoller's statement, 'The old ways are the good ways', I can't fully put myself in that medieval mindset. But I think everyone in astrology has to find the particular way that they need to go, and what works best for them.
So my approach is heavily traditional, but I'm not prepared to throw out everything I ever learned as a modern astrologer.
Q: Let's leave aside the issue of 'best' or 'better' approaches then, and just assume someone wants to get a grounding in traditional astrology. Where would you advise them to start?
That's fine. I'm not out to convert the world, though I think everyone should at least study the tradition. Even if you end up not doing anything with it, I think it's very important for us as astrologers to be aware of our history. There are a lot of astrologers out there who don't have a clue, so yes, I would recommend that they at least familiarise themselves with the history, with the main elements of the tradition: essential dignity; sect; and the normal things that you would study as a traditionalist. Whether they end up using it is certainly up to them.
My colleague Joseph Crane has written a book on traditional astrology - it's called A Practical Guide to Traditional Astrology and it's a very good introductory book, so I would recommend that. In fact, Joseph is presently writing another book about Hellenistic Astrology, and having read the drafts, I can recommend that too!
It depends on how involved people would want to get. If they really wanted to go to a Greek source, I would recommend (not to toot my own horn, but…) Paulus Alexandrinus; he wrote an introduction to astrology that I translated, with a commentary by Olympiodorus (published by ARHAT in 2001). I wouldn't call it bedtime reading, but it's a pretty complete introduction to the Hellenistic system. Then, of course, if you want to go to the end of the traditional spectrum, Christian Astrology - but, again, that's not bedtime reading.
Those aside - for modern astrologers who don't really know about the tradition, I would recommend Geoffrey Cornelius's The Moment of Astrology, which has just been reissued. When I first read it - around 1996 - that book blew me away. It should be on every astrologer's reading list I think, it's that important.
Also, I wouldn't want to leave out Rob Hand's writings on traditional astrology - he's written books on sect and whole-sign houses. I hear he's writing another book, that he wants to call Post-modern Astrology… And also John Frawley's books, The Real Astrology and The Real Astrology Applied. You may not agree with them, but I guarantee you won't be able to put them down. All these are really good books, that I'm excited about right now.
Q: I actually don't think you're 'tooting your horn' enough, because your new book, Temperament: Astrology's Forgotten Key, certainly deserves a place in the list! In the way you work through the historical sources, you give the reader an excellent introduction to astrology's traditional sources. I really think it's a great piece of work - but I mustn't embarrass you! So let me ask if you could explain how you came to write it.
Yes, I spent a couple of years - well, more than that - studying the system of temperament and its relationship to astrology. The book started out as a paper for my Level 4 NCGR exam. I couldn't go the easy road and just do a consultation; no, I had to write a paper!
It's a history of how temperament came into being in the medical sense, the philosophical sense, and in the astrological sense. It includes a study I did of children in a Waldorf school, whose teachers type them by temperament - even today. There's a section on the practical uses, and what system I found seems to work well in figuring out someone's temperament from the chart.
As I did research on the history of astrology and classical techniques, temperament gradually came to stand out as a vital component of chart interpretation. I have found through my studies that knowing someone's temperament becomes a great help in understanding them and their reactions. Traditional astrologers had a number of means for discovering temperament in the birthchart, and I have worked on refining these methods to find a way for modern astrologers to incorporate this technique in their work.
As working astrologers, we are always looking for ways to understand and help our clients better. As teachers, we want to give our students tools to enable them to become better astrologers. When we look at a chart, most of us try first to "get a handle" on the basic theme of the chart, to find the underlying gestalt. We want to see what makes our clients tick, where they're coming from, and how they might react to the experiences they encounter. In my experience, one of the best ways to discover this information is through an analysis of temperament in the chart. So the book not only gives a history of temperament, but shows, with examples, how to use it in modern practice.
Q: Going back to translation. Presumably you're aware of a whole bunch of stuff in the entire ancient astrological corpus that hasn't been translated yet, but would be in an ideal world. How do you, personally, decide whether any particular book is going to justify the work involved if you start translating it?
To be honest, no one is going to earn monetarily what their time spent translating is worth. You end up doing it because you believe that the benefit to the world is worth it.
Q: What do you see as some of the most important texts that are currently sitting around waiting to be translated into English?
I know some people who would love to have Hephaistio's work on katarchic astrology. Pseudo-Manetho is available in a doctoral dissertation by Robert Lo Pilato, but has not been published as far as I know. Personally, I'd love to see all of the CCAG properly done. [*Note: CCAG -Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum - Catalogue of the Greek Astrologers' Codices - in other words, all the extant writings of the astrologers who wrote in Greek.] A good English translation of the Picatrix. The rest of Bonatti. Rhetorius. I could go on and on….
Q: I wonder if I could ask about your perspective as a teacher of astrology? What are you really trying to convey, to leave your students with?
We always try to encourage our students to be the best they can be, to take what we've taught them and expand on it, to come up with interesting ideas and approaches to astrology. We've been so blessed with such intelligent and creative students over the years, people who have really become colleagues, and no longer students. I could certainly say that I am living proof of that philosophy. This has been Joseph's message throughout all of his teaching career. And it becomes a great force for improving the field, as our students go on to make wonderful contributions in astrology, whether in teaching, writing or consulting. So I think there really is no downside in that approach. Everyone benefits.
Q: As a teacher, do you find that some students have a natural aptitude for astrology whilst others struggle?
Of course - you will always have some students who seem to have a real knack for thinking astrologically. And those are usually the ones who end up pursuing it at least as an avocation. I'd say about 15% of our students are this way. Many, of course, are good at learning the techniques, but have trouble synthesizing, although I can't recall too many students who don't learn to do it eventually while they are studying with us. I do think astrology is a skill that can be learned even if you don't have that innate 'talent' for it. But like any other discipline, some will really shine at it.
Q: Hmm. So if I were to say that, for the all-round astrologer, you need to bring together the technical awareness of Virgo with the synthesizing ability of Pisces, would that be in the right area?
Sure, I think that's fair to say.
Q: Moving on to natal work - well, what do you tell people in a natal reading?
It depends on what they want from the reading. Some people want you to 'tell me about myself' - and actually, those are a lot of fun. But most people, in addition to that, want to know what's going on now. And usually people don't call you when they're having Jupiter transits! That's also an interesting part of the work, and a part at which you can easily see what's brought them there, and validate what they're going through. You can say, 'Well, naturally this stuff is going on in your life, because this transit (or progression, or whatever symbolic thing it is) says that; it all fits. That is one of the things I love about astrology, it can be very validating for people.
Q: Would you say that your clients always arrive with a confidence that you are going to be able to give them useful information? Do you ever get people who try to test you out before they'll believe astrology works?
I've never had anyone pay me for that! When I was still a student - of course, you practise on people you know, and a few times I did charts for people who just sat there looking at me with arms crossed, waiting for me to say something outrageous so that they could pounce. Fortunately they never did get to the point of pouncing, because I'd always manage to say something which would make them think, 'Hmm, how did she know that?'
But I would say that the people I get as clients are people who know the value of astrology at least, even if they don't know very much about it. So I don't have to 'prove' it.
Q: I'm interested by that moment where the astrologer says something, and the client thinks, 'Wow!', sits up and starts paying attention. It seems as if that needs to happen in order that astrology can work.
Yes, I think that's true, and it's happened to me. Sometimes people will come in believing intellectually that astrology is valid; but then you talk about the symbolism of something that is going on, and immediately they come back with a story about that. That's when it really gets exciting - when you say to yourself, (whispering) 'This does work! It really works!'
And you don't always get that in a reading, alas, but when it happens it's really great.
Q: What's going on there, then? I know it's a ridiculous question…
(Laughing) No, it's not a ridiculous question - it's a very profound question, it really gets to the heart of what we do, doesn't it? I think all I can say is that this is approaching, to use Geoffrey Cornelius' phrase, 'the moment of astrology' - that that is the moment when there is some kind of… divine (or you can use other words) spark that comes in and illuminates.
It's very hard to describe, and - especially while you're preparing - you can't know how it's going to turn out in the actual reading. So you maybe have some ideas when you're doing your prep - 'Oh well, he's got Saturn on his Moon, I wonder what that's about…', or whatever it is. But it's only when the client comes in and tells you the story that the whole thing rushes together in this transformative moment. And it's transformative for both the astrologer and the client. It's what we live for, isn't it?
Q: Do you think it's reasonable to say that, with this, we're placing astrology as a practice in the foothills of religion? It's not a religion, but it's not divorced from religion either, because this sense of being connected to something bigger is an integral part of its working.
Religion is a dangerous word, of course. I've been thinking about the question of astrology and religion. When I first started to study it, I would have said, 'No way does astrology have anything to do with religion.' I've said to people for years, as a response to the 'Do you believe in astrology?' question: 'Do you believe in Spanish?' Because in a lot of ways astrology is a language that we have been trained to interpret. BUT - there is also something about it that transcends mere language, that is divinatory (i.e. connected with the divine and divine intention), and that does place it in a religious framework to some degree - taking religion in its truest sense, a 'reconnection' or 'recollection' to spirit - and not in the sense of an organized worship system. So I think that, in fact, there is a question of belief in astrology, because astrology is not just a technique or a collection of techniques. Something else is going on.
I believe that the best astrologers feel that spiritual connection. So now you're probably going to get all the atheist astrologers writing you letters…
Q: If there are any. I'd be interested to hear from an atheist astrologer actually, because I'd like to ask them how they figure this universe hangs together.
Right, I'm not sure that you can really do astrology to any significant degree without being aware of the divine. You know, Lilly's quote, "The more holy thou art, and more neer to God, the purer judgement thou shalt give". But I would not call astrology only a religion; the problem with astrology, really, is that it's sui generis - it doesn't fit into any category. It has components of what people might call religion, it has components of what people might call philosophy; components of what people might call science, components of language. But it's not any of those. It's a whole greater than the sum of its parts, and - can we even describe all the parts, you know? This is the difficulty!
Q: When you first came across astrology, were you inclined to believe that it would work, rather than inclining towards scepticism?
I wasn't inclined towards scepticism, no. But when you say 'came across astrology', do you mean the first time - as a teenager - or do you mean the second time, when I read the book?
Q: The second time, the time when it really became a significant subject for you.
OK. No, I never had any scepticism about it. Well, let me qualify that. I never had scepticism in the way that someone from CSICOP might have scepticism. I could see clearly, just from reading that book and starting to look at my own chart, realising that I had Scorpio rising and a Cancer Moon, which was quite different from my Leo Sun, which is supposed to be dramatic, generous and outgoing… (not that I'm not generous… at least, I think I'm somewhat generous…). But the flamboyant extrovert was not me. So once I realised that there was more to astrology than just the Sun sign, it made sense to me; it felt right to me. And as I started to study it more, I could see, more and more, the truth that could come out of it.
Q: What's your attitude towards scepticism in astrology, then? Do you think it's possible for astrologers to really have a satisfactory dialogue with sceptics?
I think, first of all, it depends on the sceptic. I think there are probably some sceptics who have chinks in their armour, so to speak, that you can have a dialogue with. I think there are others who aren't interested in dialogue with astrologers, they're only interested in destroying astrology. I have nothing to say to them, and I'm sure they have nothing to say to me.
I think on the whole, the sceptical corpus has not acquitted itself terribly well - thinking of the whole 'sTARBABY' thing, and the trashing of the Gauquelin results - all that stuff. It made me lose a lot of respect for the sceptics. The majority of them have never studied astrology, would never study astrology - so where do they get off? You know, if you hate us and want to destroy us, you should at least know what you're trying to destroy!
But I also have a problem with this really visceral hatred that some of them seem to have. It seems so counter-productive - for them. Not for me, it's not going to affect the way I live my life, or the way I do my practice of astrology. I don't care; but spending your entire life trying to trash someone else - it seems such a waste.
Q: It's an interesting phenomenon, isn't it. Because there are some sceptics who purport to be entirely rational in their approach; to be priests of rationality, almost. And yet, faced with something like astrology, they will suddenly unleash this shadowy, emotional and sometimes quite vitriolic side to their nature.
Yes, they 'doth protest too much' - which leads me to believe that yes, as you say, there is a shadow side (to get Jungian for a minute). I guess if you analyse it further, when you see such a visceral reaction, there has to be fear there.
Q: What are they afraid of?
That there is something about astrology that is - true.
Q: Which would leave them with no floor to stand on.
Yes, that's how I see it, anyway. If you've spent your life trashing this system, and you suddenly find out that it has a nice solid floor - where does that leave you?
Q: You gave a talk at the recent Imaginal Cosmos conference at Canterbury University, called Rising to the Occasion. [Note: Full title: Rising to the Occasion: Appearance, Emergence, Light and Divination in Hellenistic Astrology] Now that is quite a piece of work! I guess this is the first thing you've done since you finished your book, and it's probing some deep philosophical questions about what astrology is, looking right back to the oracular tradition. Is this an indication of the direction you want to go in, in the future?
Writing that paper was very exciting to me. I do think that astrology has its origins in the oracular/divinatory tradition, and in using the actual physical appearance of the shining objects in the sky, whatever they are, to prophesy. And I mean prophesy in its true sense, to 'speak for' the god. I also explored the relationship between Apollo, the oracle at Delphi, and the development of astrology in Greece - and found some fascinating correlations. I do want to investigate these things further in my future research.
Q: Would you be willing to discuss your chart a little bit, maybe?
Sure. I have a stellium in Leo, of course I'm willing to discuss my chart!
Q: You referred the other day to Saturn in the 12th house being 'in its joy'. Does that work, in your experience? Are you glad that your Saturn is in the 12th?
Well, according to the tradition of course, you want the malefics in cadent houses. You want Saturn in its joy in the 12th, and Mars in its joy in the 6th. You want them cadent so that they can't do a lot of damage.
I'm really a whole-sign person now, but in Placidus my Saturn is in the 11th, on the cusp of the 12th. Certainly close enough to work. If you're looking at it from an 11th house position, I felt that more in my childhood - not being widely popular. I tend to have a few close friends rather than many acquaintances. But on the whole, I think that Saturn - being in Libra, where it's exalted - hasn't been a terrible thing in my chart.
Q: There's a conflict repeated in the chart isn't there, between reserve and secrecy on the one hand, and extroversion on the other. You've got this Leo Sun, Scorpio Ascendant - but then the Sun is conjunct Pluto. But then Mercury is also in Leo, and Mars is in the 1st house… What's that like, then? How does that work?
Well, it means that - first of all - I really need my private time. I'm fond of saying to people, 'I'm a recluse'. And I really love hanging out in my house, just working in my office all day, and not seeing anybody. That's great. Then there's another part of me that likes to be out there. I'd say that, when I was younger, that came out through theatre. I used to do acting - but that's safe, because you're not you. So that was no problem. And I'm also a singer. So the Leo part of me is satisfied by the singing and the acting (though I don't do much of that any more). And now, in astrology, I find that I really enjoy the lecturing - once I've obsessed about my preparation for a while! But once I'm up there, I'm fine.
It's funny, the first lecture I gave was at the ARHAT conference in November 1998, in Washington DC. Rob asked me to speak about what it's like to translate Greek. So of course I obsessed about my talk, wrote it all down and practically memorised it. I got up there and started to talk. My friends Joseph and Jill-laurie Crane were there, sitting in the front row. And I went into this performance mode - any performer will know what I mean. I gave the talk, and it went really well, and Jill-laurie came up to me afterwards and said, 'We never realised you had it in you! We saw the Leo tonight!'
So that's how I do it.
Q: What does Sun conjunct Pluto mean to you?
Well, not saying in any way that Pluto is a ruler of Scorpio… (as a joke, I sometimes say that I'm an honorary Scorpio). I think I'm a rather intense person. And when I get latched onto something I can be really passionate and obsessive about it. Maybe over-obsessive… though I should never really admit that, having Scorpio rising! Is there such a thing as over-obsessiveness?
But I think that's how that works. I tend to go whole-hog. When I started to study astrology, I really only started to study it formally in 1990. And so I've really only been doing it for - what, fifteen years. But I read everything I could get my hands on, I learned about lots of things that someone not quite as obsessed wouldn't have bothered to learn. So I feel that I'm pretty competent in astrology, even though I haven't studied it for 25 years. And I think that's part of the Sun-Pluto-Mercury thing that's going on. The Mercury - I see that involved very much in the way I like to do research. Because it's not in great condition, it's combust, retrograde and peregrine. But I'm like a terrier going after a rabbit, I don't stop until I've explored every possible nook and cranny.
Q: I for one am very pleased that your Mercury's 'not in great condition' then, because it means that the rest of us get the benefit of your detailed, incisive work. Dorian - many, many thanks, and long may you prosper.
has practised astrology since 1976. His other interests include Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Astrology in the Year Zero
published in 2000, resulted from Garry's study of astrology - in particular, from his investigation of the philosophy and assumptions that underpin the subject. His articles and lectures have appeared under the aegis of groups including the Astrological Association of Great Britain, the Astrological Lodge, the Company of Astrologers, the Urania Trust, the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism, The Mountain Astrologer, and Ascella. He is currently working on a PhD about astrology and truth at the University of Wales, Trinity St. David.
Visit Garry's website at http://www.astrozero.co.uk/
© Garry Phillipson