Astrology is a foreign language because it operates in way far removed from anything else in our experience. It involves causes which are unlike any causes we are familiar with. Not only are the causes different, they are the complete opposite of what we are used to. Educated humans in the 21st century think they have a pretty good idea of what reality is all about. Yes, there might be a few loose ends, but broadly speaking no major upsets are expected. Enter astrology from stage left, and chaos ensues!
Astrology might be the strangest language, but there has been a conspiracy among astrologers to play that fact down. We have wanted to appear in step with everybody else. After all, there is enough scepticism already, without our adding to it. So we have never bothered to challenge the widespread impression that astrology's language is not much different from the language of conversation over the teacups. Those horoscope columns - not exactly mind-stretching are they! Everything is cosily familiar. It might be astrology, but the tiger has become a pussycat.
But think of any serious subject, any science - none of them would exist if they had chosen to stay with the language of everyday life. They developed their own specialized concepts. Astrology has taken only a few hesitant steps down that road - it might have a technical glossary but it is woefully short on concepts. It has never seriously attempted to answer its own questions.
One way astrologers have tried to make astrology respectable is to reject any suspicion that it is an occult science. Perhaps it is time to ask how astrology might look if the insights offered by genuine occultism were given tentative acknowledgement. I am not recommending uncritical acceptance - because even seers have their blind spots - merely an experimental openness to input from that direction.
An occultist might point out that astrology might be harder to understand than we assume because it operates in its own dimension called the astral - an appropriate name because astral means relating to the stars. The astral has a number of extraordinary features. One of them we are already familiar with, its power to encode everything that happens into its system, which is why human decisions like the Declaration of Independence go on resonating down the centuries, long after the planets have moved on. In this role it represents cosmic memory, and occultists have always believed that nothing is ever lost, but stays on record. More disturbing to us, as we live our personal lives, the astral represents the all-seeing Eye of Horus, and nothing is too insignificant to escape that never-blinking gaze.
But perhaps the most startling thing about the astral dimension is that it runs contrary to the laws of the physical universe. That is to say, the astral is a script which has to be read backwards. In the physical world we have cause and effect, a process that moves from the past into the future. The question is whether physical causation explains everything. You are watching a game of pool - the cue ball sends the nine ball into the corner pocket. But the chain of cause and effect actually began earlier, in the mind of the player with the cue. He looked at the situation on the pool table, made his judgment and formed an intention. So the intention, namely the disappearance of the nine ball into the pocket, actually came first. The envisaged future result dictated the physical events necessary to produce it.
Backwards causation - we meet it all the time. We are taking a trip, so certain things need to happen. There's the visa, getting someone to look after the cat, sorting our clothes, packing. Lots of preparations, all to serve an overriding purpose. Now it is important to understand that science not only rejects astrology - it has also totally eradicated purpose from its universe. There is no possibility of a directing intelligence. Even the doctrine of teleology, which would explain the living world in terms of goals or intentions - like the way plants seek the light - has been officially outlawed. For science it is sufficient that the wooden cue strikes the cue ball, and the cue ball strikes the nine ball, and it can all be calculated in terms of volume and velocity, and given that every factor is known, the goal of science - namely predictability and repeatability - can be achieved.
Take an example of how causes in the astral are reversed - the first moon landing on the very day Jupiter conjoined Uranus [20 July 1969]. The conjunction was certainly appropriate for an unprecedented exploration. But the astronauts did not wake up that morning with an inexplicable urge to go somewhere new. The venture was a long time in preparation, as if the upcoming conjunction had been sucking towards itself the conditions necessary for its appearance - maybe we should call it the Hoover effect! Events weren't being pushed, they were being pulled. (Incidentally, if you are a conspiracy theorist, even a fake landing would take time to plan and execute!)
Again, take the remarkable event that took place in London in July 2005, one of the biggest rock concerts ever, accompanied by a demonstration in Edinburgh by almost a quarter of a million people. Lots of publicity, aimed at pressuring world leaders to help Africa. On that day, Sun in Cancer, the sign of protective concern - and maybe of special relevance to the African continent - was square Jupiter in Libra. Here again, Bob Geldof did not leap out of bed that morning suddenly inspired to relieve world poverty! For weeks the aspect had been setting the stage for itself. It was a big dramatic gesture, yes, but something more important was coming through - the moral and ethical side of Jupiter and the fairness of Libra. It was stressed that Africa did not need charity - it was simply a matter of righting an injustice. When the system in which we are enclosed sets up events that stir our conscience I suspect it is driven by a spiritual dynamic.
Indeed, what are we to call a dimension that runs counter to physical causation - that is the reverse of what happens in the material world? The term spiritual does suggests itself, and after checking with the dictionary I believe that in astrology we have what can fairly be described as a spiritual science. This would explain why there are sometimes puzzles in interpretation - it is because the heavens have their own version on what is happening, which we may be slow to grasp. There is another point of view in the universe, and to understand it we have to learn its language, not assume the heavens are speaking ours. Considering that they are up there, and we are down here, it is not surprising that they may adopt a different vantage point.
There is no agreement about astrology's spiritual credentials. The real argument here is not about astrology - it's more basic, and about whether we can believe a spiritual dimension actually exists anywhere. If it does exist maybe we should expect astrology itself to provide evidence of it. To use an old concept, are we truly threefold - body, soul and spirit? We have a physical biography, and a psychological biography - all those thoughts and emotions - but do we also have a spiritual biography and, if we do, in what language might it be written?
We hold in our hands a remarkable testament, the book of the zodiac, but its pages have been hardly turned. As you know, the four elements belong to this intricate system. Earth represents the physical, while Water and Air stand for feeling and thinking - the domain of psychology or soul. And Fire, the aspiring element, comes close to what is meant by spirit. The ancient symbologies typified the divine element in man by fire. Heraclitus wrote: 'Man is a portion of comic fire imprisoned in a body of earth and water.' The word pyramid - think of those massive expressions of upward aspiration - means etymologically 'a measure of fire'. Indeed the alchemist's symbol for fire was the upward pointing triangle.
The three Fire signs show why the term spiritual cannot be applied animals. Considering the prime function of Aries, as a letter in nature's alphabet, one must say that animals are not capable of genuine initiatives, but must follow the form and function of their bodies. Speaking of Leo, animals are not creative in the sense that humans exude creativity, but are doomed by their instincts to constant repetition. Nor, in reference to Sagittarius, do they strain to reach out to something beyond, to something future. Some animals may be good jumpers, but they are not going to make any conceptual leaps.
As a young man I encountered general semantics, and proceeded to make a nuisance of myself exploring the loopholes in the language of officialdom. I learnt that a word was 'a noise made by a face'. The trick was to discover the reality to which the words were being attached - and the connection was often shaky. So if anybody rejects the word spiritual, perhaps we should talk about Fire. I like it because it sounds more robust than floating around on a fluffy mauve cloud. As somebody said 'You know the spirit by its triumphant tone.'
If Gemini is words, then Sagittarius opposite - the pinnacle of Fire - is meaning. Meaning, and the capacity for symbolic thinking! The power to find revealing metaphors! Meaning is specifically human - animals scratch their heads, but not because they're wondering why they're here. This search for meaning is a fiery, ego-filled process - active and outgoing. If we wait for meanings to arrive it will be a long wait.
As I say, there is no place in official science for purpose, nor for any meaning in the universe outside mechanical causation, although at the speculative edge of physics they have started to entertain the possibility of backwards causation - or 'retrocausality' as they call it. Nevertheless there is no place in material science for the spiritual, but a spiritual science can rightly ask - where's the Fire!
So I think our spiritual biography is defined by Fire. We declare ourselves in our initiatives - Aries. We celebrate our spark of the divine through our own creative touch - Leo. We become wise as we reach out for meaning - Sagittarius.
When we realize the heavens are engaged in backwards causation - that circumstances are all the time being shaped by the pull of the future - we can begin to see what destiny means, astrologically. We are not stamped at birth with our destiny, nor even our personality - there is no imprinting - but, being the person we are, we are born at a time that announces who we are. Our destiny may be indicated at birth, but its realization lies in the future - indeed tragically it may never find complete fulfillment. It is a pity that the idea of destiny has almost completely slipped from human consciousness, thanks to the propaganda that physical causation is the only causation in town, so that everybody must look to the past for meanings. The answers must lie in the genes, or in the childhood situation, and so on. Some of the answers may indeed be found there, but the true significance of our journey - like all journeys - lies in where we are going, not where we are coming from. Aristotle wrote in the fourth century BC that the 'nature of man is not what he was born as, but what he is born for.' And I like this quotation from Nietzsche: 'Our destiny exercises its influence over us even when, as yet, we have not learned its nature: it is our future that lays down the law of our today.'
To gain some insight into our own destiny we have to trace events backwards to see how and why we got to where we are. This can be done in great detail - it is an instructive and sometimes bruising exercise! The astrologer has a special advantage, and can revisit the progressions and so forth that accompanied the pivotal events, with the question, did it have to happen that way? I have only once been asked to look into the past to explain what went wrong with somebody's career, and how it might have been different.
So we humans live at the interface between two equally real dimensions. There is the physical, with its cause and effect that works from the past into the future, and cannot be reversed - time's arrow as it is called - and there is another unsuspected dimension in which the future exercises a powerful magnetism on the present. As astrologers we don't need to be reminded that our future transits and progressions are already set in place along the road ahead, waiting for us to catch up with them. In a sense they are already present - one of the mysteries of time! To put it another way, the scroll may have to be unrolled but the writing already exists. However I believe its language is largely of possibilities, seldom of probabilities, and even more rarely of certainties.
Perhaps the idea of destiny beckoning to us from the future has been pushed aside by astrology's preoccupation with psychology and personality. Alan Leo, the father of modern astrology, taught that 'Character is destiny.' It seems so reasonable - you have your character, your character decides how you think and act, and that in turn produces your life history.
Instead of 'character is destiny', I would suggest that destiny is character, in the sense that we are automatically given the equipment to accomplish what we are invited to do. Our horoscope shows what we are intended to acquire, over time. It is not much more than an architect's drawing, pointing to a future construction. You cannot live in an architect's drawing - the house has to be built, a project involving many skills and much effort. If you are an Aquarian you have the opportunity to become an Aquarian, but there are lot of amateur Aquarians about. There are a lot of failed Aquarians out there! The house can be ramshackle - the right materials may not have been used, or at some crucial stage the builder may have downed tools. What our horoscope contains is not our automatic possession - we are a work in progress. Moreover we do not move into the house intended for us merely by getting older. We have to become what we are, and what I expect from astrology is some insight into this process of 'becoming' - I don't need an astrologer to play a game of second-guessing, assuming that because I am Aquarian I must already be like this or like that.
How do we become who we are? The short answer is by engaging with the activities, interests and issues which our charts indicate are appropriate for us. A former British Prime Minister died recently, by name Edward Heath. One feature in his chart was Mars septile Neptune. Now I don't think it's easy to hit on the right words for an aspect like Mars septile Neptune - to formulate a description that would be true for everybody born under that aspect - and we are likely to finish with sentences so vague as to be useless. There is certainly an inspirational quality to the septile, so that when we hear that Edward Heath loved competitive sailing, in his yacht Morning Cloud, we recognize a signature of Mars-Neptune.
Another celebrity with Mars septile Neptune is Sir Ranulph Fiennes. But here the challenge is not the sea - Neptune is his feet. Not competitive sailing, competitive slogging. He has trudged through snowy wastes, and through deserts. He ran seven marathons in seven countries in seven days. Here it is a Mars Saturn conjunction that septiles Neptune, suggesting not only the heroic endurance of this intrepid pedestrian but an urge to test himself to the limit.
We might imagine that if we have a birth chart with Mars septile Neptune then sooner or later, as we grow older, the benefits or otherwise will automatically become clear. But no - the blessings of the heavens are not handed to us on a plate. They are acquired through our active involvement with them. Your aspects can't live in a vacuum. Imagine what was developed in Edward Heath, over time, as he skippered his yacht, how the total experience helped to make him the person he was - how his senses responded to the rolling seas and the sky, the skills he had to perfect, the good fellowship he enjoyed, the wealth of memories. It was not Mars septile Neptune that accomplished this, it was through engaging in an activity appropriate to Mars-Neptune. There is a saying about the spiritual life that might apply equally well here - we make the path as we tread it. It sounds back to front, a reversal of what we might expect, neverthelesss what we do all day makes us what we are.
Some evidence for this comes from science, and it relates to our brain. Only recently has neuroscience understood the extent to which the brain's circuitry is shaped and reshaped, how plastic it is. When we learnt to read - what an effort that was! - the pathways in our brain were configured to recognize words. Our activities, what we do and what we think, continue to affect how our brain works - and how our brain works goes a long way to making us who we are. You become a different person sailing a boat than if you are doing origami - or astrology for that matter.
All this suggests we have our individual life tasks, through which we become who we are. We engage with them repeatedly, at different stages of life. Now when it comes to understanding these tasks we have to strip astrology right down to its underwear. We go back to basics, bearing in mind that the cosmic language is not written in terms of human nature. It is not essentially a language of personality, nor of psychology. It is something which adapts to human nature, just as it might be adapted to alley cat nature, or puppy dog nature - or to politics or battleships.
So what sort of language is it then? We get closer to it if we stop trying to describe people in the language of the teacups. Teacup-speak tends to be judgmental, which is unhelpful to a true understanding. If I describe a Saturn person as striving to be self-contained, I am using a neutral language - no question of taking sides. Again, I know a few people born under a Sun and Moon conjunction, and they seem to develop an intensely personal point of view, as if they can only grasp your problems, or assent to some abstract proposition, if they rummage among their own memories for some comparable personal experience. This is not bad, nor is it good, it just is. You will recall the Buddhist injunction: 'If you want the truth to stand plain before you, never be for or against.'
Yet throughout its history astrology has been for or against. Early on, it adopted the yardstick of praise and blame, with some planets good and other planets bad. Its approach to human nature was equally judgmental, and even today we can read lists of traits divided into good or bad, positive or negative, harmonious or disharmonious, strengths and weaknesses. This can miss the reality - the reality which lies at the point where the good and bad come together, where the positive and negative come together, in a place that is beyond mere opinion. Perhaps in such value judgments we can detect the prejudices of Western middle-class respectability! Extravagance bad, thrift good! That's only a hairsbreadth from saying generosity bad, meanness good!
Astrology has to break with the kind of teacup-speak which simply sticks labels on you, words like assertive, stubborn, indecisive, and so on. It has never been very objective - you know how it goes: 'I am firm, you are stubborn, he is pig-headed.' If you were a medical student you could describe the liver as red, slimy and disgusting, but that will not get you through your exams. It's not how the liver looks that matters, but how it functions. The question is, how much of astrology is mere description and how much shows an insight into processes. Too often interpretation becomes a jumble of adjectives - the language of traits. But the language of functions is more a language of nouns and verbs.
If we adopt words that avoid value judgments, that are neutral, more objective, more about processes, we take a first step towards the language in which our astrology can breathe more freely.
But it's a first step only! Ultimately there is only one language adequate to describe the operations of the planets and the zodiac, and if I had to put it in a nutshell I would say it is a language of cosmic purpose. What does that mean? Life has been described as a drama of the unmanifest in the manifest, of the invisible in the visible. It seems to me that the word spiritual might properly be applied to something unmanifest and unseen, yet overwhelmingly powerful.
The astral dimension belongs to the invisible. Just as the physical world is fully manifested, what relates to the astral is also real, but lies beyond our senses. You are in a room through which radio waves are constantly passing. They go through the walls, and through our bodies. To make them manifest we need a radio, tuned to the right frequency. Then we might hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, if somebody happens to be playing it. Which makes us wonder, where is Beethoven's Ninth when nobody is playing it!
The ancient Egyptians depended absolutely on the Nile but did not know where their river began. In astrology we have a river of manifestation, which flows from its unknown source to produce tangible effects. Water does not flow uphill, and manifestation is a sort of progressive stepping down from a higher level to a lower level. We can think of other metaphors. One stepping down process involves light, which is stepped down into different wavelengths, each with its own colour. Or again we could consider the ways the energy of the sun is stepped down to produce life on earth.
Downstream in this process of manifestation - at the point furthest from the source - we have an astrology of correspondences, the whole lexicon of rulerships that make up our sense-perceptible world. Correspondences are the end-result of the cosmic process, a sort of debris collected on the way. Yet the correspondences of a planet or sign collectively must tell us something about their common source - when we put them together what do we see? Saturn is the skeleton, the skin, the metal lead, old people, rheumatism, falls, clocks, the past, and so on. If I have a piece of card with five holes cut in it, and I put my fingers through the holes, these pink blobs may seem separate, but you can probably guess that they belong to the same hand. Indeed, behind the card is not only a complete hand, but an arm, and a body, and - when it is at home - a brain. I have great respect for those blobs precisely because they are so impressively connected. I want to study their fingerprints so I can recognize them on whatever crime scene they might be found! But somewhere, at some level, in some dimension, all the things attributed to each planet come together in something which embraces them all and explains them all.
Now something very significant in the long history of astrology happened early in the 20th century. Astrologers began to look for the invisible hand. They went in search of the source of their mighty river. As they did so they found it necessary to speak in more abstract terms. Saturn was limitation, contraction, crystallization, Jupiter expansion, Venus unification. Astrology began to develop concepts, it moved in the direction of ideas, of generalities. It was felt that for each planet there might even be just one keyword, a single fact which united all the other facts. Of course the ultimate keyword for Saturn is Saturn, for Venus it is Venus, and so on, but our understanding requires them to be stepped down just a fraction.
Astrology began to understand that the different attributes of a planet must be part of one and the same process or function, and the understanding of the signs and houses began a similar transformation. But even now we must doubt whether our ideas are comprehensive enough to grasp what we see in our charts. For instance we have developed a shorthand in which Venus equals relationships. Actually it is less about relationships, plural, than relationship, singular - about the bonds that unite. So while we are sharing in the anxious modern obsession with personal relationships, we might overlook the profound effect of Venus on our mind - the affinities we recognize as we process information. Thus a number of outstanding thinkers have had Venus associated with Jupiter, the planet of diversity and permutations, and their genius has been in seeing how a wide range of facts and observations come together in a unity.
Again, we all know Venus as the planet of love, but it can signify less romantic relationships, as long as they involve co-operation and reciprocation. In Tony Blair's chart Venus square Uranus has been crucial to his career, indicating issues of how far his political supporters could be kept on side while he steered them along his own path. This has been a repeating tension between compromise and independence, their way or his way. In terms of his career Tony Blair was able to juggle with these conflicting values to transform Labour politics. On the personal side we know his wife has a lively career of her own, and presumably the chemistry is good for them both.
Such all-embracing ideas belong to a modern idiom, and would have been an utterly foreign language to the astrologers of old. For centuries the planets had been described in very downstream terms, such as our physical appearance, our behaviour, illnesses, occupations, the type of people who represented them in the world, and so on. In particular astrologers wanted to know to what extent the planets were good or bad - one debate was whether Saturn or the newly discovered Neptune was to be dreaded the most.
Astrology has still some way to go down this road. Mention Aries and some of the audience instantly think of character traits, of what Aries people are like. Yet it must be possible to discuss Aries and the other signs as great dynamics, originating forces in their own right, without reference to their ultimate appearances. After all, it is possible to talk about the laws of electricity without mentioning table lamps and pop-up toasters.
We are into a new century and ought to be asking whether our understanding of fundamentals can be further extended. We might then find that astrology - our much reviled astrology - has much to reveal about the truth of our human reality. For instance why does there have to be a planet of limitation, hindrance, and so on. What is the point? What is the meaning? I remember at one conference of astrologers who were being very scientific causing some embarrassment by suggesting that all the manifestations of Saturn could be united a single fact, that of incarnation or embodiment. Indeed everything about Saturn flows from that condition - our entanglement with a physical world, bound by the processes of time and decay. But to astrologers who thought the truth about Saturn could only be discovered in statistics it did not seem decent to make this conceptual leap. They would have denied Isaac Newton his eureka moment - exactly how many apples had he watched fall, and had he weighed and measured them?
Of course there was an awkward metaphysical issue, namely if something is being incarnated or embodied, what could it be?
Astrologers of a philosophical persuasion will have heard the doctrine that the One above becomes the Many below. If so, we should study the many below and try to join up the dots. Imagine a pen, a typewriter, a telephone, the Morse code, a newspaper, a postage stamp. Communication! The mind moves from the particular things to a generalization which embraces them all. It is a step from the visible into the invisible. And the invisible is actually more real than the physical things, because it is the need and desire for communication that justifies their existence. They are all special instances of the same impulse. Arriving at this overarching idea of communication may seem no great achievement - there are no prizes offered - except that for children, and for primitive peoples even today, such abstractions are a foreign language.
As I say, it was only relatively recently in its long history that astrology began to grope towards the comprehensive concepts necessary for understanding the planets and zodiac. For centuries astrology showed an extraordinary lack of curiosity about its own basics - amounting to intellectual inertia, it must be said - while at the same time other fields were buzzing with the spirit of inquiry.
Science has always struggled to see connections between phenomena. In classical times it was noticed that if you rubbed a piece of amber it would mysteriously attract bits of straw and feathers. Then there was the north-pointing needle, which produced the first magnetic compass. Everybody had seen lightning during a thunderstorm, but it took Benjamin Franklin to fly his kite and demonstrate its electrical nature. Today all this comes together in the context of electromagnetism. It was the physician to Queen Elizabeth I who called this power 'electric', after the Greek word for amber. How astonished he and other early readers in the book of nature would be if they could be transported through time to a modern city! Everywhere they would see magic!
There are features of the astral dimension so potent that one day an enlightened astrology may produce its own magic, to rival those of science. But not if astrologers stay behind rubbing their bits of amber! The astrological community is a curiously mixed bunch, and there are those who insist on defending what they have defined as the tradition. This is portrayed as a reaction against the modern shift towards psychology, because the psychological approach tends to downplay concrete events and to avoid prediction, except in the most general terms, whereas many of us feel that such factors are at the very heart of astrology. So today astrology is polarised - at one extreme are the traditional and event-orientated practitioners, and at the other those whose main concern is with a science of the psyche, freed from the trappings of fortune telling.
If these two approaches were reworked to embrace spiritual concepts we should see that they are not so far apart. Then events would become translucent - it would be possible to see through the mere appearances to grasp their significance, what they mean by happening. And the psychological approach would be raised a notch or two, to reconnect mind with macrocosm. There cannot be two astrologies - they belong to the same continuum, and are simply positioned at different points along the river. When it reaches a certain stage downstream the unmanifest is picked up on our human radar as states of consciousness. Further downstream it becomes our concrete human experience.
Given that there can be only one astrology you would think that - considering the scepticism and scorn levelled against us - we should long ago have circled the wagons around a position we can all defend. If we are developing an astrology suitable for the 21st century, it may sometimes be necessary to modify or even contradict 'the tradition'. But so what! Is it really relevant who claimed this or that, in what precise terms, in which past century. The question is, does it stand up to examination today? Try telling scientists their first aim is to be deferential to their predecessors! What must come first is intellectual intregrity.
As for psychology, at the opposite pole, the problem was expressed by Carl Gustave Jung in an early essay [Basic Postulates of Analytical Psychology] where he said: 'There is not one modern psychology - there are dozens of them. This is curious enough when we remember that there is only one science of mathematics, of geology, zoology, botany, and so forth. But there are so many psychologies that an American university was able to publish a thick volume under the title Psychologies of 1930. I believe there are as many psychologies as philosophies, for there is no single philosophy, but many.'
So wrote Jung... 'there are dozens of them'... and of course since 1930 the list has grown. So if astrology wants to attach itself to some particular psychology or philosophy, which should it be? Let us pause to ask why there should be so many psychologies and philosophies, in comparison with the sciences? The reason is that in psychology and philosophy there are no dependable reference points to help navigate unfamiliar territory. Different thinkers survey the landscape and pick out different landmarks - and in fact the reasons for the differences are to be found in their individual birth charts, but they don't realize that, and cheerfully extend their personal bias to the world in general.
In contrast, astrology has a unique advantage. It does have solid reference points, with a real physical location, such as in the solar zodiac. The zodiac is more than twelve personality types - the signs are twelve different viewpoints, twelve different philosophies, twelve different psychologies. Because the zodiac circle embraces them all we can be genuinely impartial. We can construct an astrological philosophy, and a psychology - yes and a psychotherapy to go with it - purely out of our own data, without reference to others. Why can't there be one astrology, just as there is one geology, one botany, one mathematics.
The astrologers of old excelled at observation, and we owe them a debt of gratitude, while recognizing that if they had made a greater effort to stitch their observations together the reputation of astrology might stand higher than it does today. Maybe they were too busy earning their crust through divination to bother with the sense and science of it.
As we have seen, in the 20th century a new vocabulary was being created which would have been a foreign language to past generations because it was pulling back from the ultimate expressions of manifestation - it was rowing upstream. And as it did so old problems began to be solved. It was realized, for instance, that the ninth house was essentially about exploration, which put an end to the surreal argument about how long a journey had to be to qualify for removal from the third house - allegedly of short journeys - to the ninth. It was realized that religion and philosophy, long identified with he ninth house, belonged there because they too represent an exploratory outreach. So this was the house of enlarging horizons! Here was where the mind was stretched, where we moved beyond simple observation towards explanation and interpretation.
Astrology was becoming more connected. But was it really so difficult to join up the dots? The idea of 'communication' had to wait a long time before it embraced the separate examples of it. Consider the other Mercury house. Over the centuries the sixth house acquired attributes which everybody must have realized was a bizarre mix, and it is to the credit of those early astrologers that they were content simply to stand by their observations, and not try to impose a logic on them.
The sixth house. Our servants are there, and we are there too, if we are in service to others. This should tell us we are dealing here with a function, an activity, and it doesn't matter which end of the transaction we are on. Unless we are very grand, these days we won't have live-in servants, only the tradesmen who come to do jobs, like the plumber or electrician. However one servant is in permanent residence, whom we hope will prove dependable - our own body. Just as servants are expected to carry out instructions, so our physical fitness determines what we can do for ourselves. This is said to be the house of illness, but it really has to do with ability or disability - only when an illness is disabling, or threatens to become so, is it connected with the sixth. This house is where we are measured on the sliding scale of capable at one end, and incapable at the other.
It could be called the house of implementation. The verb to implement means to put plans or orders into effect. In English at any rate 'implement' is also a noun - implements are the tools or utensils we employ in the garden or in the home. So a number of ideas come together here - implementation, instrumentality, tools, ways and means, methods, skills, technique, know-how. In sum, this house is about achieving physical effectiveness. We note that the twelfth house opposite seems dedicated to frustrating effectiveness, by imposing obstacles, handicaps, inhibitions.
What about the sixth house and small animals - and not forgetting ceremonial magic. Well, obedience is closely involved with this house - my legs may not obey me if I try to run upstairs, my chisel may not obey me if it is blunt. Our association with animals can also involve obedience. I suppose small animals are more easily intimidated - cats have to be house trained, dogs taught to come to heel - but perhaps a working elephant, trained to obey the mahout, is not too big to be accommodated in this house. As a servant you might say.
As for ceremonial magic, this involved the obedience of elemental spirits. They were bound into servitude and commanded to carry out the magician's will. That was the theory anyway.
Connected with the sixth house and its sign is the perfection that can be achieved by specialization. Invent the perfect can opener, and it will be brilliant for opening cans but useless for anything else. In our world the real specialists are in the animal kingdom - a spider is a little machine for spinning webs, and a cow a grass processing plant. Having achieved their perfection they are not going anywhere. They have reached the sterile dead end symbolised by the Virgin. In contrast humans remain separate and superior because they have remained unspecialized - your hands are good for nothing in particular, and on that account can do an incredible range of things.
Here again it is the twelfth house opposite, and its sign Pisces, that provides the contradiction. Here we find the dynamic which unceasingly works to prevent the human species from becoming a one-track specialist, instead of remaining many-sided. This is where the options are kept open. You may have noted echoes of it in Pisces behaviour. Sometimes Pisces seems committed and signed up, but the next thing you know they are backtracking. One celebrated astrologer, a Sun-Pisces, was interviewed on radio the other day - he said he could be dogmatic, but he was quite willing five minutes later to contradict himself! There is something about this sign which hates to see the concrete set!
But we should be grateful for these daily reminders of the cosmic purpose of Pisces. Humans have a great evolutionary advantage precisely because our bodies are uncommitted - being relatively free from external imperatives we developed a rich interior life. It's very twelfth house, this secret place between our ears, our interior world. So even the seemingly trivial traits of Pisces, and for that matter every other sign, have a majestic origin - upstream! Those annoying things about your partner and your friends - you don't know from what high heaven they have fallen! Perhaps astrologers, as they interpret the planetary patterns for others, should be guided by this maxim: Magnify to each his own soul!
You have probably never lain awake at night worrying about what your feet have to do with human evolution! Well it was our ability to walk on two feet, our upright stance, that allowed the cranium to adapt its shape to the bowl of the heavens, so that the brain would become the biggest and most complex on planet earth. That is the occult explanation. The orthodox explanation is that it freed the hands to fashion and use the tools that eventually made us superior to the animals. That is also true. We recall Virgo and tool using, we recall Gemini and the hands, and we think of Sagittarius, the pinnacle of Fire - surely the emblem of humanity reaching out beyond anything animals could conceive.
I am arguing here that the key determinants in astrology are grounded in the facts of human existence, which are back upstream, nearer to the headwaters of the unmanifest. These determinants do not arise from personality or psychology, which are already halfway downstream. Charles Darwin believed that to understand human existence we must take account of animal existence. Astrology has its own interface with animals, exemplified in the zodiac, but - through its insight into the matrix created by the unmanifest - astrology points to conclusions that are the reverse of Darwin's. You will know the illustration of the zodiac man, with a ram on his head and fishes beneath his feet. Because cold-blooded creatures are supposed to have arrived first, it seems to be saying that man would get his feet early on in evolution, but have to wait a long time for his brain! The opposite view is that man was on the scene first, but was held back from physical manifestion through long aeons of time, during which the animals progressively devolved from that prototypal human form - a devolution not an evolution. But finally came the Fall of Man, and he joined the beings that had preceeded him into incarnation.
We do have an organic connection with animals, and its nature is explained by the Virgo-Pisces polarity. In the astrological model the forces that flow into complete manifestation in animals are held back in humans - through the power of Pisces - which means that what animals have outwardly, in the form and function of their bodies, we humans have retained inwardly as qualities of soul and spirit. Thus, the crab and the scorpion have powerful clippers for taking hold and hanging on, but in humans these same qualities appear in the psyche as grasping qualities, like tenacity and possessiveness.
Nor is an accident that occasionally you find people who physically remind you of their astrological animals. There is a vague resemblance to the ram, the bull, the lion. What is happening here? Is the answer that the forces that should be held back are held back, but not completely - and we are witnessing a slight seepage, enough to leave a trace physically? A somewhat occult explanation you may think, but how else shall we account for it.
Certainly Darwinian evolution, based on the fairly obvious fact that it's the survivors who get to breed, guarantees that in the end each species must arrives at its maximum perfection. But too much has been claimed for Darwin's theory - surely it is the most pervasive of all theories in the world today - and it has been a major factor in steering civilization towards the abyss of materialism. Therefore astrology may have a more important role to play in human thought than we imagine, through its ability ultimately to challenge material science.
In conclusion I want to touch on a feature of the astral which could have important consequences. Because our minds are embedded in this invisible mind-stuff, it suggests the possibility that our traffic with it might be along a two-way street. In other words, can we influence it directly? In the examples of backwards causation I mentioned earlier we saw that the ends seemed to be creating the means necessary for their manifestation. We might be able to see a threat to the London Underground in the relevant charts, but we don't expect to see the all the plotting and preparation that produced it. We don't see men with explosives in their rucksacks entering a Tube station.
Over the years there has been much discussion about creative visualisation, the possibility that we can imprint our own preferred ends on the mind-stuff of the cosmos, and trust that those ends will find their own means to manifest themselves. There is a mysterious verse in the gospel of Mark [Mark 11:24] where Jesus promises that whatever you want, if when you pray you believe you have already received it - then you shall have it. In other words, you form in your mind the desired situation as if already manifested, and somehow the pressure is created for its realization - which would be an example of a visualized future state working backwards into the present, not unlike pocketing the nine ball.
When I began to take this possibility seriously, as a young man, it struck me that if you could connect the technique with astrology - taking your cue from the heavens regarding the timing and content of your demands on the cosmos - the effect must be enhanced. Not long afterwards I found myself in a difficult situation which I was powerless to resolve by ordinary means. The technique seemed to work, and in a rather scary way, because the people I was dealing with began to behave as if hypnotized, making inexplicable mistakes. I have resorted to the technique a few times since, but sparingly - because you might be asking for the wrong thing!
We seem to be getting into strange territory. Maybe the reason astrology is essentially a foreign language is because it is native to a country whose shores have been hardly visited, and whose vast hinterland has yet to be explored.
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
; 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.
Dennis can be contacted by email at email@example.com
[ More articles by Dennis Elwell
The text and images on this page are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
This article was first given as a lecture at the Astrological Association conference at York in September 2005.