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Dennis Elwell

Dennis Elwell

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A modern art of horary - By Dennis Elwell

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Click chart for detailsIn the other chart from the same source, the question put was 'Will I have another baby?' Here again one suspects this was not the central issue. Some charts shout 'babies!' at you, but not this one. Its most striking feature is Neptune (uncertainty, ambiguity) exactly in the midheaven (status, identity). There are also indications of emotional frustration. The astrologer who did not take the question at its face value would wonder whether the quandary in which this woman found herself was connected with the fact that for ten years she had been living on and off with a man friend, a situation into which a baby would introduce a new element. Moreover, since the midheaven is connected with the career, the astrologer might usefully have inquired what would happen to her job, at the age of forty-five, if a baby arrived.

Coming to this chart at second-hand it is not possible to discover how far the real issue was a desire to escape from one or more frustrating situations, with motherhood seen as a way out. But this chart illustrates that while a question may seem straightforward, it could merely hint at the person's true concerns. Handed this chart, any astrologer who tried to guess in advance the drift of the question that was about to be asked would have probably got close to the mark.

It must be said that to open out questions in this way leads to a more ethical horary practice. It cannot be ethical to paint a picture of a future which is already predetermined in its details. After all, a woman of forty-five who asks 'Will I have another baby?' might be looking for confirmation that she no longer needs to practise birth control! One celebrated astrologer who assured a client that the stars were shining brightly on partnership ventures never suspected she was planning to murder her husband!

The ethics of astrology are something of a minefield, but any approach which brushes aside free will and the need for personal responsibility must surely be deplored. In so far as horary plays down the crucial role of human choice it is in need of a radical rethink. The astrologer should be enlarging the scope of free will by explaining the real issues, thus allowing sounder decisions to be made, and perhaps revealing options which may have escaped notice.

This is the point to express a view which will doubtless outrage those who are determined to defend the horary paradigm. As usually understood, horary is about asking human questions to which the heavens make a human answer. That is to say, the cosmos is expected to speak our language, and to be immediately comprehensible to us. Yet throughout astrology we find that our human questioning is apt to be met with a cosmic answer, which may require us to stretch our imagination. To assume that the cosmos can do no other than function within the straitjacket of our limited human concepts is the ultimate arrogance! Therefore there are many instances where we think the cosmos is saying one thing, when actually it is saying something quite different.

The basic premise - humans asking questions and the heavens replying - seems a straightforward enough transaction. But the process at work in genuine horary astrology is the exact reverse! It is the cosmos that asks the question, to which we must make a human response. The most authentic questions arise, not out of mere curiosity, but when some pressing circumstance moves us to seek an answer. That is to say, the impetus for the question comes out of our individual or collective life experience. The need to know is prompted by the stream of cosmic becoming, in which our participation is as uninterrupted as it is unconscious.

William Lilly, the maestro himself, ordered some fish from London, but the warehouse was robbed before it could be delivered. Taking the exact time he heard the bad news, he set up a chart to see what had happened to his fish. He wanted his supper back, and the villain apprehended. He has bequeathed this chart, and his deliberations on it, to posterity, but although he tracked down the thief it is obvious from his description that the feat owed as much to private sleuthing and a bit of luck as to astrology - what he calls 'discretion, together with art.'

What Lilly did not pause to ask was why the universe in its majesty should visit this inconvenience upon him, at precisely this time. Do the purposes of the cosmos really include trivial malevolence? Instead of wondering why me, why now, he assumed the only question to be answered was how the injury could be righted.

Click chart for details The chart he set up tells another story. The moon rising in Taurus is held to refer to the querent, and indeed this combination describes someone disposed to the creature comforts, notably a good meal. The fish were intended to see him through Lent, the period of penance and fasting. Traditionally Mercury is the planet of thieves, and it had become standstill in the sign of the Fishes, and in the twelfth house, where 'secret enemies' are said to lurk. So the chart unmistakably contains the trappings of the event. But is that all?

Instead of rushing to apply the quaintly inflexible rules on which horary judgment depends, Lilly's thoughts could have taken a different route. He might have speculated that if the universe is intelligent, not blindly vindictive, there must be meaning behind its dealings with humanity. At one level Mercury is about making experience intelligible, and the sign it occupied (Pisces) notoriously represents forces which - like the fishes tied tail-to-tail - tug in opposite directions. So he might have taken the hint that this experience could be turned around and read in more than one way.

Maybe if he had been born in the age of Jung, or was familiar with the daemon, the guardian angel, the higher self, the spirit guide, Lilly might have pondered the significance of the fish as a Christian symbol, for Lent is after all a Christian festival. He was a religious man, as his famous open letter to students of astrology makes plain, and he called his masterpiece Christian Astrology. Was Pisces catching him out, trying to face both ways?

Taurus was strong in his birth chart, and mealtime abstentions do not come easily to some Taureans. But for someone born under a Pisces ascendant, as he was, fish on the menu may not be a real deprivation at all, and maybe for the good of his soul his guardian angel did not want him to fake his asceticism.

At any rate Lilly pursued the miscreant as implacably as any Inspector Javert. He did not stop to ask why a fisherman should steal fish. Nor did he recall the Christian doctrine that when somebody slaps you with one wet fish you should take him another - and why not stay to eat it with him while you are about it!

Lilly thought he was posing the question, but perhaps this was an interrogation of Lilly, on the sincerity of his faith? Indeed, as we go through life the system continually tosses us problems and puzzles, asking 'What do you make of this?'

Another point needs to be made. The idea that the heavens manifest equally everywhere, as if by some purely mechanical process, is hard to sustain. Some people may be 'better connected' than others, and the rapport of the same person may vary from time to time. It is feasible that lukewarm feelings, flickering thoughts, tend to distance us from the cosmic order, while conversely the intensity shown by fanatics binds us more tightly to it. Thus, speaking to us from the thirteenth century, in his De Mirabilibus Mundi, Albertus Magnus declares: 'Whoever would learn the secret of doing and undoing these things must know that everyone can influence everything magically if he falls into a great excess ... For the soul is then so desirous of the matter she would accomplish that of her own accord she seizes the more significant and better astrological hour which also rules over the things suited to that matter'.

A journalist for most of his life, Dennis Elwell has explored any byway that might throw light on astrology, leading to a study of science on the one hand, and occultists like Rudolf Steiner and Gurdjieff on the other. Teaching himself the basics as a teenager, he became a regular contributor to American Astrology; a platform for the leading astrologers of the day. The association continued for twenty years. He began lecturing to astrologers in 1963 and has subsequently gained an illustrious reputation as an original thinker and stimulating speaker.
In 1987 Elwell attracted considerable media attention through forewarning the shipping company P&O of impending disaster. Ten days after their reply, expressing complete confidence in their safety standards, the 'Herald of Free Enterprise' capsized of Zeebrugge with the tragic loss of 188 lives. His book Cosmic Loom, was published in the same year and was recently republished by the Urania Trust in an updated and expanded version.

[ More articles by Dennis Elwell ]

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