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The Contemporary Astrologer's Handbook by Sue Tompkins

Book Review

The Contemporary Astrologer's Handbook - an in-depth guide to interpreting your horoscope
by Sue Tompkins

Flare Publications, ISBN 1903353025, 352 pages. 18.99, 2006.

Price: 15.50/$28.00 + p&p.

Reviewed by Garry Phillipson

This is basically an astrological cook-book, and it is a very, very good one. The reader gets the benefit of Sue's vast experience as a consultant astrologer and teacher of astrology. When you read her delineations, you are not reading a rehash of what has been said by generations of astrologers gone by, but things which Sue has seen and tested for herself. This is the book's great strength, and it is quite enough of a strength for me to recommend it.

Naturally, the first thing I did on getting my hands on the book was to leaf through and look at Sue's descriptions of some of the features of my chart, then some people I know, and I have to say she hits nails on heads all over the place.

The book is made up as follows:

Chapters 1 & 2 (p.4 - 23) introductory material covering the underlying principles of astrology, then elements and modes.

Chapter 3 (p.24 - 67) the zodiac signs.

Chapter 4 (p.68 - 206) the planets, including analysis of planets in the signs.

Chapter 5 (p.207 - 234) the aspects. Sue takes the approach of describing the nature of the aspects, then describing the issues facing each planetary pair, i.e. she does not attempt to spell out the meaning of each aspect between each pair. Given that her previous book was Aspects in Astrology, this seems entirely reasonable! Interestingly, Sue devotes space to the quincunx, quintile and septile here as worth consideration.

Chapter 6 (p.235 - 294) the houses. Including description of each planet in each house.

Chapter 7 (p.295 - 305) is entitled 'Non-Essential Bodies'. Sue first covers the nodes in just over three pages, and I got the distinct impression here that I find them more useful in chart readings than she does. Then we have eight pages on Chiron and the Centaurs. Interestingly, this part of the book is co-written with Melanie Reinhart. It strikes me as indicative of Sue's painstaking approach that she would draft in a fellow-astrologer to collaborate on eight pages, rather than either skip the subject or bluff her way through it. Chiron gets the lion's share of the coverage, with brief sections on Nessus, Pholus and the asteroids at the end. Much as I might like to scoff at Chiron, my experience suggests that it can't be ignored in natal work. Annoying little thing! The description of Chiron is quite open-ended, covering the usual themes and some new ones, but in the end suggesting that it is up to the individual astrologer to tune into the exact significance of Chiron in any given chart.

In fact you can find this entire chapter online, c/o Melanie's site:

Chapter 8 (p.306 - 312) covers chart interpretation and synthesis. There is a lot of good practical advice here. I'll have a little more to say about synthesis below.

Chapter 9 (p.313 - 345) case studies, including profiles of Henry VIII, Kelly Holmes, and Agatha Christie.

Now. It's difficult to talk about an issue which isn't actually an issue without turning it into an issue. But all the same that's what I want to do now. Early in the book, Sue writes,

Although the empirical approach to science is not popular at the current time, for me, as long as one is rigorous in checking one's observations, it is still a very valid approach to employ. (p.10)

Since she has just been talking about astrological symbolism expressing itself in the daily news, it seems clear that what she has in mind here is not 'science' in the white-coat-and-lab sense, but 'astrology', or perhaps 'astrology-as-science'. It seems to me that some of our best astrologers feel the need, these days, to be rather defensive of their approach, and perhaps Sue is one of them.

Here's what I want to say. Although the astrology-as-divination movement might seem as if it would deny the need for empirical observation, I think most astrologers in this camp would say that you need to learn and develop your practice as if astrology is an empirically-based science. So any disagreement here is more about the ultimate nature of the universe than how to practise astrology.

We each have to relate to astrology from within our own particular mind-set, and it seems inevitable that different astrologers will therefore feel most comfortable with different approaches to the subject. It would be good if we were able to respect, even celebrate this diversity. I certainly want to say that ideas about astrology which would prevent someone from appreciating an experientially-informed work such as this, are unhelpful ideas. And incidentally, my punishment for astrology's factionalists would be this: that they be taken from this place and obliged to watch the scene from The Life of Brian where members of the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea fight to a standstill under the amused gaze of a couple of Roman centurions. This to be repeated for as long as it takes, until they get the point.

The only serious grumble I have with the book is the lack of an index. Perhaps the thinking was that the cook-book format obviates the need for one. Well, for what it's worth, I think a good index would make the book even more useful.

In conclusion: although some of Sue's ideas (modern rulerships for instance) don't jibe with mine, I am emphatically not going to start grumbling about that. This book is packed with practical, hard-won astrological wisdom and is recommended to both new and old astrologers on that count.


Garry Phillipson
December, 2006

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