Kim Farnell has been a professional astrologer since 1990. She has taught astrology and lectured extensively in the UK and overseas. She was previously the Vice Chair of the Astrological Association of Great Britain and has been editor of its Newsletter, Transit, both as a print magazine and online. Kim has also been on the Executive Committee of the British Astrological and Psychic Society and was editor of its newsletter, Mercury for two years. She has written sun sign columns for a number of magazines and websites and has articles published in numerous astrological periodicals all over the world. Kim has an MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology and is the author of several books including The Astral Tramp: A Biography of Sepharial, Reading the Runes, The New Illustrated Guide to Astrology and Mystical Vampire: The Life and Works of Mabel Collins.
This interview integrates some questions that are part of Garry's standard PhD
question set. This staccato question-and-answer framework can be seen in
some places, whilst in others, more luxuriant conversations developed from
Kim's initial responses.
Q: How did you first hear of astrology?
I honestly have no idea whatsoever. I think it was always there.
Q: And when did you first try to learn it?
When I went to college in 1980 and was known as a tarot reader I was given a copy of Jeff Mayo's Teach Yourself Astrology. It made no sense to me at all. After I finished college, I was temporarily unemployed so I did what all the agony aunts advise and went to evening classes. One of them was astrology. I thought it was mind bogglingly obvious, took the Faculty certificate a few months later, started the diploma and took over teaching the class.
Q: When did you learn the tarot?
I'm not quite sure. I was certainly doing readings in late 1980 and remember buying a new pack of cards in Venice in November of that year. I already owned a couple of packs by then. It must have been during the year between school and college in 1979-1980. The books I have from around then are mainly from 1981 though, so it looks like that was my high period.
Q: How did you learn it?
I read books. Lots of books. And I did readings. Lots and lots of them. No formal class or course, but I got the hang of it very quickly.
Q: Why, do you think, there was such a difference between your first contact with astrology - when it "made no sense at all" - and the second, when it seemed "mind-bogglingly obvious"?
The first time I had a book and whereas I could understand the words, I couldn't work out what to do with them. I couldn't grasp what I was really supposed to do with the information. And there seemed a huge amount of stuff to learn by rote until I could actually do anything. It was a bit too much of a challenge. The second time I was in a class and saw charts from the start and had people to talk to. I learned in a jigsaw sort of fashion - work out what the pieces are and then you only have to fit them together. That worked for me. But between those times I had read a huge amount of tarot and other "occult" literature and so I'd done the groundwork. Maybe at that stage I would have been simply able to pick it up from a book and wasn't ready before?
Q: Hmm, sounds plausible. So who were the initial influences when you got to grips with astrology?
I started with a Faculty teacher, so all the standards. I'd read Blavatsky and all sorts of strange and wondrous stuff since my mid teens so I had a heavily theosophical outlook. I later rejected a lot of theosophical concepts relating to astrology, but have always been hyper aware of their influence. (It wasn't until much later that I became involved with the TS and part of the family, although I'm still not formally a member.) After all the Faculty stalwarts it was Liz Greene, Howard Sasportas etc. I was also involved in local astrological discussion groups, which offered up an extremely eclectic mix of ideas. And then I met Charles Harvey and had a brain shift. And then I met Olivia Barclay and astrology became real.
Q: What was this 'brain shift' (upon meeting Charles Harvey) of which you speak?
Instead of being something that bored housewives, the unemployed and other people with too much time on their hands took up, astrology turned into a serious subject. Something that could be looked at with more intelligence than had previously seemed valid and something that was part of a general life philosophy. Less theory, more practice.
Q: So your approach to astrology has been through some major changes over the years?
I originally got sucked into a psychological approach, which was plain silly for someone like me. I even enrolled for a counselling course. And then I realised…
Q: Why do you think there is that incompatibility between you and the psychological approach? Is this connected to what you meant when you said that, under Olivia Barclay's influence, "astrology became real" for you?
To put this into perspective - prior to attending college and getting into tarot and then astrology I had been heavily involved in numerous political groups. I was constantly being hammered with the idea of the world being wrong and it being someone's fault - usually someone else's fault. My first experiences of psychological astrology involved a lot of blame attributed to parents etc for your upbringing, a lot of talk about how a "bad" childhood had made you this, that or the other person. A lot of underlying motives thrown around. The world was wrong, albeit a smaller world, and it was someone's fault. All very interesting, good brain exercise, but it didn't seem practically applicable to people I mixed with. (Ok, I'll accept that not all psychological astrology has to be that way but...) There was a lot of blame floating around in my life.
And in another section of my life entirely, when I was beginning with astrology I was a competitive gamer and travelled around the country playing tournaments. (Apparently, I met Claire [Chandler] during this period as she did the same and we played at the same tournament at least once, but neither of us can remember it - weird though).
Q: What kind of gaming?
I played role playing games. Began with Dungeons and Dragons. Moved onto Traveller and Call of Cuthulu. It was all new then, games changed with the invention of D&D. It was possible to play non-competitively, synch in and out of different games while playing the same character and collectively write the story. The rules were guidelines, rather than obligations. A game sub culture was born out of this time, and though I left it behind some time ago, I can still speak the language. It was half way to acting and totally irresistible to HAVE to try to understand Lovecraft.
I clearly remember two occasions here that are relevant (possibly). One was when one of our team got a bee in his bonnet about religion and sounded off about how there couldn't possibly be a God and as I said that I didn't see what the point of being alive was if there wasn't anything I realised I actually thought that. Another was spending the evening with two young Moslems reading Revelations, from the Gideon Bible left in our rooms.
And yes, I realise that will probably ruin my image entirely.
So here we were. There's no God in Marxism. There's no god even. Or even god. And I read tarot and someone is telling me what to say. And tarot and astrology are connected as divinatory systems. And where's the divine in psychological astrology? I couldn't find it.
And there were other issues. Having been educated into it I guess I'm fairly middle class now. But that wasn't my original background. No, I didn't have to sleep in a cardboard box and eat dripping every night. But no-one, absolutely no-one whatsoever, in my early world would consider going into therapy unless they were sectioned. Psychological astrology was screamingly middle class in the 80s - probably not so much so now. But these were people I didn't know.
And finally, you will be relieved, I couldn't quite figure what to do with it. If I didn't train as a psychologist what was I doing messing about with psychology. The people I knew wanted to know what job to go for, whether they were going to marry x, how to deal with relationship problems etc etc etc. And possibly find a lost cat. Psychological astrology will never find you a lost cat. Cats matter (but that's another story...)
Q: Is this connected to what you meant when you said that, under Olivia Barclay's influence, "astrology became real" for you?
Yes. Blackberry the rabbit. I now own a rabbit called Blackberry. Life can be good.
Are you going all Zen master on me here? By saying 'Blackberry the rabbit', are you asking me to cut through a knot of concepts about living to the simple thus-ness of pure and uncomplicated life? Or are you just trying to change the subject?
Blackberry was a lost rabbit. The horary to seek Blackberry the rabbit was one of Olivia's favourites and had a habit in popping up whenever she was lecturing. It was part of the QHP course, if I remember right. I remember sitting at an AA conference lecture of Olivia's with a group of people who defined themselves as the Blackberry fan club. We waited…and there it was. Blackberry's chart. Oooh…we were so happy. Then an astrologer sitting behind prodded me in the back and asked what was so special about this chart? I don't think we ever managed to explain. But it was a real chart, about a real rabbit that gave a real result. It was real life. We weren't looking for motivations from Blackberry's childhood to see why he went missing. We weren't trying to define his soul. We really weren't thinking about whether he could cope with the psychological pressure he would experience with Pluto next hitting his Moon and wondering whether that would be damaging to his relationship with his mother. The chart was to find a lost rabbit. Rabbit was found. No frills, real life, actually useful.
I don't think that's Zen, but I don't speak Zen.
What would be your 5 'Desert Island' astrology texts?
Why would I need them on a desert island? Weather prediction? Ok, so I'm just being picky here. Assuming that I already have the tools, i.e. ephemerides etc, Lilly's Christian Astrology, Ramesey's Astrology Restored, Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos, Cornell's Encyclopaedia of Medical Astrology, and a compilation of all my own work.
Q: Speaking of your own work - I wonder if you could give me a run-down of the books and articles you value most?
As far as my books go The Astral Tramp will always a favourite, simply because it was my first book, a great learning curve, and it made me a lot of friends. And I was told it wasn't possible to do a biography of Sepharial because there simply wasn't enough documentary material available. People simply don't look. The Illustrated A-Z of Star Signs, which is actually an astrological dictionary, made me learn a LOT. And I use it regularly myself. The Astrology of Sex was a personal project that got a little out of hand, originally done for my own reference after a regular client asked me to work on her sex life with astrology. (If you see what I mean). But my biography of Mabel Collins, Mystical Vampire, causes me the most happy moments. That stemmed from a conversation with a friend where I was musing about this woman who kept popping up in my reading and no one knew anything about. Within a few days I got email from three continents expressing delight that I was writing her biography. So I thought I must be. I've grown to adore Mabel. It's been a struggle pulling this together but I see it as my best achievement so far. But it isn't astrological so…
Otherwise, there are a few articles here and there I quite like. But anything I really get into grows and grows and will end up as a book at some point. I've just completed a book on the history of Sun sign astrology, which I'm rather pleased with. But it's too close to me at the moment to put into perspective.
Q: There are a couple of things I find particularly interesting about 'The Astrology of Sex'. Firstly, the way you put it together - starting with what traditional astrological sources say about sex, and then researching those ideas with a research group of 350 people on an email list.
I actually started by compiling a set of references from all sorts of sources, mainly traditional, about sex for my own reference. And I had a list. Great. And I was on Festival at the time and noticed that certain astrologers threw questions out when they wanted to test theories. Oooh, I thought. That sounds like a good idea. So I tried a couple of questions. The list exploded. It was filled with descriptions of people's sex lives and the astrological significators. Not everyone wanted to tell all publicly so I got a HUGE pile of private mail. It took five months of drowning in email before I surrendered. I was totally staggered by the amount of people who wanted to tell me, in graphic detail, about their sex lives.
Q: Did your researches throw up anything which particularly surprised you?
That the old theories worked more often than not. It shouldn't have been surprising but it was. Ptolemy still rules. Astrologers like talking about sex. A lot.
Q: Then you're also distributing the book in an innovative way. It's sold as a downloadable set of files, with the possibility of updates also appearing online in the future (is that right? I'm sure I saw that somewhere, though I can't find it now). Could you say something about why you chose to issue the book this way, and what you see the advantages as being?
It was all rather strange. The earliest version of the material was published in Japanese. A later version appeared as a small book in Serbian. I rewrote it for an English market but couldn't sell it. I was told that it was too technical and too "horary" but if I rewrote it greatly simplified I could probably get away with it. I didn't want to do that so it sat on my computer for a while. I vaguely thought about self publishing but got distracted by other things. A friend of mine in the US had suggested we did some work together and wanted to start producing books online. I said it was a nice concept and promptly forgot. Then I got an email suggesting we did it now and we did the sex book. People had been asking to see it for ages, I'd emailed sections to people from time to time. A couple of web articles based on the book got a phenomenal response. So with nothing to lose we pulled it into shape and made it available.
All references to 'astrology' here specifically concern astrology's capacity to disclose information which would be difficult or impossible to obtain otherwise.
Q: Were you inclined to believe that astrology would work as soon as you heard of it?
I don't think like that. I was inclined to start using it and see what happened.
Q: At what point did you become convinced that there was 'something in it'?
I'm not. I don't think I'm ever convinced of anything. I tend towards the likelihood of it being valid because in my own personal experience it appears to work.
Q: Were there any experiences which convinced you, or made you doubt astrology?
Not really. I await enlightenment and in the interim keep plugging away.
Q: If you experienced doubt at some point, how (if at all) was the doubt resolved?
I probably doubt about three times a day and usually make a cup of tea and then get on with it.
Q: What is your attitude towards doubt now, and is there any further research/experience etc you wish to pursue in order to move on from your current position?
Doubt is healthy. It keeps you on your toes. I need to know more, even though that will allow for more doubt. So that's a move from my present position, although it may not be an improvement as such.
Q: I wonder if we could divert to your chart for a moment? Because with Saturn so prominent, I might have expected you to be more concerned to discover what is 'really real', and therefore more inclined to doubt astrology and to want to test it in some way. So how does that Saturn work in practice?
It's hardly a simple Saturn - opposite Mars/Moon conjunction. Your question implies though that astrology deals with unreality. And therefore wanting the real with that Saturn will push me towards opposing it. I'd question your definition of reality. I was told by Robert Zoller that my Sa-opp-Ma was a crisis solving combination. That was five minutes before I had to deal with a flood of sewage in the basement of the Urania Trust building where he was lecturing at the time. So I believed him - especially as he was hopping up and down saying "See?". So perhaps Saturn would show a desire to discover the "real" - but I'd see it doing so in a way that was pragmatic.
As for the really real, I also have a Scorpio Mercury on the MC. I'm still collecting the information. Need lots more before I'm at the stage of being able to seriously test anything related to astrology. Give me another decade or so...
|The Issue of Proof
The first three paragraphs below are really one question in several instalments:
Q: Do you think you could prove to someone that astrology works?
Not at present, though I allow it may be possible.
Q: If so - could you do this (a) if they were undecided, (b) if they were antagonistic?
It would be far more interesting if they were antagonistic so I'd try harder and therefore I may well be more successful.
Q: If antagonism would be a barrier, why?
It could be, because of the involvement of subjective judgment in interpretation.
Q: What would you do to 'prove' astrology?
I'm not sure that I would. Although when people ask me to, I generally ask them to prove electricity with no more than a beer mat and a broken pencil as tools, as that's what they expect of me.
Q: Do you think it is possible for an astrologer to win James Randi's $1 million prize for demonstrations of the paranormal?
I don't think it's possible for anyone to win it. Isn't that the point?
Q: Can you cite an example which (whilst preserving client confidentiality, if relevant) shows astrology working? (Please feel free to mention more than one example if you wish.)
It's usually the trivial and mundane that hits home. For example, talking to a client one day I launched into a thing about loft conversions. It looked like a loft conversion in the chart. But she had started off by talking about her marriage so was a little taken aback. The loft conversion was highly relevant - as a financial drain apart from anything else. Another time I was speaking to a woman about her boyfriend leaving her and described their last argument and how she had reacted to it. Then I realised that she hadn't mentioned an argument, although I was right. Things like that happen all the time. Last week I was cagily talking about prophetic dreams and spirit contacts to a client, cagily because I didn't know his attitude to such things. Turned out that he was chatting to angels on a regular basis. The argument oft given in this sort of situation though, is that I psychically picked something up. I believe that I am about as psychic as a sausage roll, but in the end it doesn't matter. I think it's the astrology but it's the answer that's the point. Sorry for the grammar breakdown there.
Q: On the psychic front. You're involved with at least two organisations I can think of - the TS and BAPs - which have a major interest in the psychic world. Do you feel some sort of attraction to psychic phenomena? Why?
I actually have no idea. I suppose it's mainly because I think that we are unknowledgeable about much more than we are knowledgeable about and I'm happier with people who look for different possibilities. I am totally entranced with the role that the occult and psychism plays in our cultural history and how it is ignored or sidelined. And I like nice people who make me cups of tea.
|Attitude to 'Sceptics'
The term 'sceptics' is used in the sense it has in the astrological community, i.e. people who argue (usually by reference to science) that astrology does not and/or cannot work.
Q: Can you understand the viewpoint of (some of) the sceptics?
Perfectly. I have no problem understanding that people:-
a) don't agree with other people I know
b) don't agree with me
c) don't comprehend what astrology is anyway
d) are afraid of their preconceptions collapsing
e) may possibly be right and me wrong
Q: What do you make of the argument that whenever astrology appears to work, this can be explained either by 'blind reading', or by reasoning errors?
It is a perfectly valid viewpoint. Sometimes it's true.
Q: What is your attitude to scientific/statistical research into astrology? Do you think that this has proven, or could potentially prove, astrology?
Statistics prove statistics. Statistical research is a powerful numbers game that reminds us how powerful numbers can be in an argument. But numbers simply prove numbers. Scientific research is too broad a term to hold much meaning for me, so am taking a raincheck on that. But as for whether astrology could be proved or not… all things are possible. Personally though, I have no idea how it could be done. It sounds too much like trying to prove God does/doesn't exist. Those who know God exists won't change their minds easily and neither will those who know that God doesn't. And I'm not totally sure what the purpose is in trying to prove astrology. But if it makes people happy, it's fine by me that they get on with it. I just don't really want to join in.
|The Question of Astrological Technique
Q: How would you characterise your work in terms of traditional and/or modern astrological techniques?
Q: Is one better than the other?
For me traditional approaches are more effective. But I haven't tried EVERYTHING so reserve judgment.
I prefer tried and tested.
Q: Why have astrologers not arrived at one consolidated, consensual, 'best' technique?
Because there isn't one consolidated, consensual 'best' astrologer.
|Consultations and Other Astrological Work
Q: How long does it take you to prepare for a horary reading?
Prepare? Do people really do that? Assuming my computer is on, and I'm able to find a pen, usually about fifteen seconds. If someone is sitting in front of me, I'll take time to make tea.
Or, the alternative answer is - it's so far taken me approximately five years.
Q: And for a natal reading?
It depends on how much time I have. Sometimes, for example with web readings and at fairs etc, there's no preparation at all. Sometimes I have a little time the day before. Ideally, I book consultations at least a week ahead so that I can look at the chart and make notes as and when there's space in the day. It probably averages about two or three hours in that case. But some charts are more obvious than others. And I said a lot of that because the question implies I should be preparing for hours and I have the sneaky feeling I'm doing this all wrong somehow.
Q: How many clients do you do readings for in a typical month?
I don't have a typical month. This last month I've done 3 long face-to-face ones. Last month I did about half a dozen short email readings. January I did 14 short email readings. Some months (rare) I don't do any. Other months I do up to twenty. Some readings are short ones done by email through a website. Some are for people who come and clutter up my office. Some are by phone or email. I'll let you know when I start getting typical months, because that's probably the time to find a new job.
Q: What is your attitude to sun-sign columns?
They are to astrology what first aid is to medicine.
Q: Would you/do you write one yourself?
I would, I do, I have done, I will.
Q: Do you think they are (if done well) a Good Thing?
Sometimes they are a Very Good Thing. Even if not done well they can hit the spot enough to make them worthwhile.
Q: Do you see it as part of your responsibility to uncover the issue(s) which are really troubling a client, when these differ from the issues they present?
Certainly not. I find the idea offensive. In the same way that if I went to a restaurant and ordered a salad I'd be well miffed if I was presented with a roast chicken. Or a meringue. Nothing against meringues in particular, but I've always found them difficult to make so that would be incredibly annoying. I view my clients as grown ups. I don't view myself as omnipotent. People's psyches are messy, and I don't see why I should try and dive in there to stir them up. If there are underlying issues, they are underlying for a reason. I deal with what they ask for, when they ask for it. If related issues are to come to the surface they will in their own good time. "Uncovering issues" is often either bullying or showing off on the part of the astrologer.
Q: If so, what can you do to acquaint your client with these underlying issues?
You mean, "let's look at your underlying issues today?" type of conversation? I get clients who come to me because I DON'T throw underlying issues at them. I've got one who called recently because she was pissed off with A.N. Other Astrologer who did just that. She explained to me that she was a Sikh looking for concrete directions to achieve what she wanted. She had been offered an analysis of her childhood and her relationship with her parents, and her own cultural background and beliefs were completely ignored, because A.N. Other Astrologer thought they knew what was best for her. She wants a conventional marriage and to have a child. A.N. Other Astrologer didn't agree. A.N. Other Astrologer lost a client.
Q: What does it mean, to help a client?
In my case it's usually restricted to giving them directions to my place. In broader terms I'd see it as providing the service they asked and paid for.
Q: Are you able to accurately predict death from a chart?
Not personally, not yet.
Q: If so, is the prediction probable, or certain to happen?
Death's like that - it does tend to happen most times.
Q: Which method or technique(s) do you use?
I have, unsuccessfully so far, tried a number of traditional techniques. Eventually, I'll get the hang of it.
Q: If it is possible, is it something which an astrologer should do?
I have always assumed that it is possible and that my skills are so far deficient. While I don't think that there is anything that an astrologer is obliged to do, there are certainly times when it would be appropriate. For example, when someone is suffering from a terminal illness and awaiting death with happy anticipation.
Q: "The more holy thou art, and more neer to God, the purer judgement thou shalt give" (William Lilly); Do you believe that there is some mental or spiritual quality (which Lilly calls being 'holy' and 'neer to God') which, over and above technical competence, affects the success of an astrologer's work? If so, how would you describe it? Why is this quality relevant?
God put it all there, God therefore knows what it's all about. If God takes time out to let you know what he's on about it's a good idea to listen. Alternatively, you can't analyse the universe without listening to what it's got to say. Actually, I'm getting a bit nebulous here so may answer this again when my brain is more in the right direction.
Q: What implications does this have for teaching & practising astrology?
It does you good to be humble.
Q: "Sometimes the magic doesn't work" (Robert Zoller). Is it true, in your experience, that astrology simply does not work sometimes?
Q: If so - can anything be said about the situations in which it does not work? (Is there a pattern, or is it entirely arbitrary?)
There no doubt is a pattern, although I don't know what it is. Sometimes it doesn't work because it isn't the time for you to say that thing. Sometimes because you're too disconnected to listen.
Q: How would you describe your beliefs about the world - particularly those beliefs which have a bearing on astrology?
That's a bit big, isn't it? I believe that the world is a big place and is extremely small. I believe whatever you experience someone else has done it better and worse. I believe vast amounts of problems could be resolved if people would simply shut up and listen for a moment. As Tom Lehrer said - "I feel that if a person can't communicate the very least he can do is to shut up." I believe that everything is connected and that you really shouldn't step on butterflies to be on the safe side.
Q: Are you (when you practise astrology) a magician?
Possibly. What do you mean by magician?
Q: Is there any essential difference between astrology on the one hand, and divinatory systems such as the tarot, or the I Ching, or tea-leaf reading on the other?
The sheer amount of detail that is available in astrology. It's hard to get that much from tea leaves. Fundamentally though, not really. It's all divination. Ooops. I suppose I must be a magician after all. You'd better amend the above.
Q: What is your attitude to (competently-made) astrological predictions - do they define an inevitable future, or a range of possible futures?
Theoretically a range. But considering how narrowly most people like to live their lives (and I'm claiming no superiority here), effectively an inevitable future.
Q: Can an individual exercise of free-will change a person's fate?
I tend towards the "you can alter the little things but God takes care of the big ones" approach - which you can probably convert to a saying by Augustine.
Q: What changes would you like to see within the astrological world?
Less of the "no-one loves us and we know better than everyone else" approach.
Q: What changes would you like to see in astrology's place in the world?
I think we should replace the weather forecasters. Our track record is better.
|Kim Farnell is currently organising the Astrological Lodge of London's 23rd History of Astrology Seminar (5th November 2006). For details see the ALL website www.astrolodge.co.uk
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, 2006 - all rights reserved.