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A QUESTION OF ETHICS by Chris Turner
I am angry! Very angry! I heard a story this morning that should make the hair on the back of every ethical astrologer's neck stand on end. It's an old theme - the theme of ethics, a theme which comes up now and again as an academic exercise. But I would like to tell the story I heard, as a personal re-enforcement of how important an issue this is. It is a personal anecdote, and as such, many will say it has no place in a forum such as this, but I believe it does, and it's a theme that cannot be discussed too much.
The story concerns a friend of mine - let's call her Mary. Within the last 12 months Mary has been through a very messy and extremely painful separation from her 2nd husband. It has been a real struggle for her to cope with the emotional devastation, the legal mess and expense, and keeping food on the table for herself and her teenage son.
A few months ago she met John. John happens to have a good friend, Harry, who is an astrologer. Harry is a Cosmobiologist and regards himself as a bit of a hotshot astrologer, and according to John, he is never wrong with his predictions - he is always spot on. Harry happens to think traditional astrology is a waste of time.
Now, let me make it very clear this is not an attack on Cosmobiology, this could have happened with a Hindu astrologer, a Humanistic astrologer, anyone. Harry, who I am attacking, just happens to be a Cosmobiologist.
Five days ago, John asked Harry to look at Mary's chart, to see if she was going to move or not. Harry told John that Mary's chart simply stopped in March next year. It was completely blank after that time. He also said that Mary was going to get extremely sick, and wouldn't recover, and she would be dead by March which is why the chart was blank. However there was one hope for Mary, and that was to sell her house here in Sydney, and move to Queensland. That would save her life. He had had it confirmed by consulting with another Cosmobiologist who agreed with his prognosis. Harry also told John that a traditional astrologer could not have told him this, as he used techniques traditional astrologers didn't know how to do, and was able to pull the chart apart to a much deeper level than an ordinary astrologer could.
Predictably (if you will forgive a sick pun) John went into a panic. Worried and scared sick, he rang Mary, urging her to sell up immediately and move. For confirmation he told her to ring Harry herself, which she did, and was told in no uncertain terms that unless she sold up and moved she would die.
The last 6 months for Mary have been hell. By sheer willpower she has hung on to her "sanity", realising that she cannot afford to sink into a well of self pity just yet. She simply can't afford to, either emotionally or financially. She herself recognised that a phase of her life was coming to an end on many levels, and is planning a new life, once the legal areas are all dealt with. Right now she is focussing on keeping her house, food on the table, and not allowing any more setbacks to overtake her.
For two days after receiving this news she was numb with shock. She tried to tell herself that it was rubbish, how could Harry know that, surely he meant she was starting a new life. But Harry had been so specific. He had said specifically she was going to get very sick, and not pull out of it. Her chart stopped in March. And John said Harry was never wrong.
Three days ago, she decided that if she was going to die in March, all this struggle she was going through now, simply wasn't worth it. She's tired and unhappy as it is, the only thing keeping her going is the thought of a new start when all this was over. Why bother. Why not end it now. She considered how she could do it, and decided the head in the oven method was the easiest and cleanest.
Fortunately for Mary she is much tougher than she thinks she is. She is also fortified by very strong spiritual beliefs. At the last minute she couldn't do it, and tried to convince herself, that she would try and put it out of her head, and worry about it next March.
This morning she asked me to have a look at her chart for her, and told me the story I have just told you. I reacted most unethically, and hit the roof. It took me more than three hours, and the help of another astrologer and a tarot reader to convince her Harry was very likely wrong. I showed her visually how her chart not only continued after March, but all the positive elements (thanks to colour coded aspects on the computer screen) that were there. Between us we have convinced her Harry is not God, he is not infallible, but we haven't been able to eradicate the fear that he could be right. If she gets sick in March she might die. No-one is going to be able to eradicate that fear entirely.
OK, having vented my anger, let's talk about this seriously. There is no doubt that Mary has an incredibly active, and many would say heavy chart over the next two years. But Harry in my opinion has broken at least five ethical rules, if not more.
1. He delineated Mary's chart without her permission.
Now this is one we all break all the time. I get paid for doing it every week. I do it for my column, I do it in class, and I am guilty of doing it for friends and family when they want to know what's happening in a loved one's life. Not one of us hasn't broken this rule many times. In many ways we can't avoid doing it. It has often bothered me, and I have come up with my own code of ethics when doing it, by which I perhaps wrongly, justify doing it.
a) If the person is famous it's OK, as they are public property.
b) Except when teaching, I never do it to any depth.
c) I never do it professionally, i.e. for a client, only for friends, and close ones at that,
and never without being asked to.
d) I judge whether my looking at it may help the situation for the friend or family member who is asking me, i.e.
alleviate their anxiety.
e) I never give out birth data (unless it's someone famous) without the chart owner's permission. However I am now questioning whether we have the right to do it under any circumstances.
In fairness, Mary knew Harry had her birth data, she had given it to John several months ago, in full knowledge that he was going to give it to Harry. So one could say that he had her implicit permission to read it at any time. But people do that. I am constantly being given birth data for all sorts of people, private and public. It still does not give me the right to look at that chart for someone else without their explicit permission, not just permission implied.
2. He told his prognosis to someone other than the owner of the chart.
Naturally this follows on from the first point above, and if you have broken rule 1. you probably will break rule 2. There may be some justification if for example another astrologer had consulted you on a chart (in which case an ethical astrologer would not identify whose chart it was). Or perhaps if you feel that by telling the other person they may be able to help, or you feel that it would genuinely help them relieve some of their anxiety. Or perhaps if you are looking at that chart to give you confirmation or added information on the friend's chart. For example, had Harry done John's chart, found something very heavy in his chart around March, and then if John had been in a full on relationship with Mary, i.e. they shared their lives, thus he had looked at Mary's chart to see what was happening to her in March to give him a clearer idea of what was happening to John.
But this was not the case. John and Mary are friends no more. Mary did not ask John to ask Harry to look at her chart. John has no rights by relationship to influence or direct her life in any way.
3. Harry gave specific detailed prediction for a specific time.
There are two very important points here. By being specific, whether positively or negatively the astrologer is totally depowering the owner of the chart. S/he is telling the person that they have no responsibility or choices or influence in their own life. You may think it does no harm to be positively specific, but it does, because the person thinks they don't have to change, grow, make any effort at all, and everything will be hunky dory. I once had a Capricorn/Virgo client whose transits indicated the most fantastic relationship conditions coming up. I told her she couldn't fail, and I wanted an invitation to the wedding. A year later, she came back very disappointed, it hadn't happened. She had sat home watching TV, waiting for Prince Charming to knock at the front door - which was deadlocked. I hadn't told her she had to go out, be where Prince Charming could find her.
This is a major problem for those astrologers who work the 1900 phone lines, as the callers want specific answers to specific problems, and can (as has happened to me) get quite abusive when you don't give them. I personally think the FAA needs to closely examine this rapidly growing area of astrological practice, and formulate a guideline for phone practitioners, as they have done for counselling practitioners. I can tell you my horary is getting better and better all the time, but I always qualify my specific yes/no answers with suggestions based on the natal chart and transits. Or tell them straight out, I can't tell them what they want to know, especially if, as it often does, it concerns a spouse or a lover, or an offspring.
The second point is self fulfilling prophecy, and I agree, if what you are saying is positive, and helping to build the confidence of the person, it would seem to be the right thing to do. But it isn't if it depowers the person, or worse. makes the client dependent on you to bolster that confidence when it slips a little - as it inevitably does, sometimes before they have even arrived home after seeing the astrologer.
Negatively of course it can be incredibly destructive. Sometimes however, we don't realise we are being negative. The mother of a Great Aunt of mine was told while Great Aunt was a baby that Great Aunt would live to 72. At age 72, Great Aunt got the flu, took to her bed to die, contracted pneumonia and died. The medicos said she didn't seem to have the will to live.
My own father was told by a gypsy when he was 16 he would die at 84. When he turned 83, he began to wait, as he wasn't sure whether the gypsy meant his 84th year, or when he turned 84. For two years we waited. (I refused to look at his chart). I am happy to report that he is almost 89 - and still works a five day week.
I was told 20 years ago by an astrologer that I would die at 94. It just so happens that when I am 94, Pluto opposes my Sun, so he could be right, and from the youthfulness of 53, the thought doesn't worry me. In fact I say now that I don't really think I want to live that long. But how will I feel about that at 90?
Even the most happily married woman, if told she may have an affair, or is about to meet her soulmate, will put out signals, and look at every man who passes her in the street "Is he the one?". I can almost guarantee she will have that affair, and probably destroy a perfectly good marriage in the process.
4. He made these specific prognoses on an unrectified chart.
The chart Harry used was from birth data supplied by John. Mary will always tell you she was born around 7.30/8.00 am, she really isn't sure. I have not rectified it fully as I have never done a full consultation with her, only the occasional glance when she wants confirmation of something. The point is her birth data is Dirty Data, and one can never make really specific statements about a Dirty Data chart, as even when rectified, the astrologer can be - and is often, wrong.
5. Harry specifically predicted a negative event with no qualification.
And what a negative event. The most terrifying one of all. And he gave Mary no alternative, no way out.
This to me is a major no-no. Not one of us is God. Not even Harry. Not one of us can even remotely guess at what goes on in a person's heart, mind and soul when they are about to die. We do not know whether it is their choice, or whether a person will have the inner strength to fight or perhaps go along with, whatever processes a person goes through at that time. Not one of us can speak from experience, only personal belief, and we have no right to impose a personal belief onto another person.
Having said that so strongly, I would like to tell another personal anecdote which demonstrates that this sometimes can be a dilemma.
My first husband Geoff and I have always remained very close. His present wife Maria, and I are very good friends. Geoff and Maria live in Europe, coming home to Australia once every four years or so. When they are home for a visit, inevitably and naturally I am asked to look at their charts for them. I last did this two years ago. I did Geoff's first, and what leaped out at me was transiting Pluto conj his Natal Moon in the 7th house, Transiting Pluto sesquisquaring his 7th house Sun, and transiting Saturn sesquisquaring 7th house ruler Pluto in the 4th. The Jupiter ruled 8th house was being triggered by quincunxes all over the place. Progressed Moon was moving through the 7th On checking progressions, solar arc etc etc, it did not look good, but as Maria was present, I resolved to discuss his marriage with him in private later.
Next was Maria's turn. And oh my God, transiting Jupiter and Pluto squaring the Ascendant, transiting Pluto opposing the Sun, squaring 12th House Saturn, the 6th and 8th houses being triggered by several quincunxes and semisquares from both transiting Saturn and Pluto. Her progressed Moon was moving through Scorpio, and would conjunct Geoff's natal Sun as he was having his Lunar Return. There was even the "traditional" trines from Jupiter to her progressed Ascendant and progressed Sun.
Now Maria is somewhat of a hypochondriac. There is always something wrong with her, and no-one can ever quite find out what.
Seeing all this heaviness in both their charts, I really became alarmed. In my own mind the possibility that Maria might die was a very real one. I was imagining her complaining of a pain somewhere, and no-one taking her seriously, and it turned out to be a malignant tumour. All sorts of horrific scenarios ran through my mind.
And I had a dilemma. What to do? What to say? Ethically I had to tell them what my prognosis from the chart was. These were not one off clients who I may never see again, but two people who I not only love, but who I see regularly and give them regular chart updates, so I couldn't just ignore it. But ethically I could not tell them Maria might die either.
After a great deal of agonising, I took Geoff aside, and told him that I was really worried about Maria. He asked me did I think she was going to die? I told him I couldn't tell that, but I was worried. I also told him not to ignore her tales of aches and pains, but to encourage her to have them attended to immediately. I also told Maria to keep a firm eye on her health as she could possibly have some health problems. (She was delighted with that!!!!) I also told her to focus on work, diet, rest, all the usual positive re-enforcements.
The difficult transits passed, Maria has had to have one or two operations, but she's still well and truly alive, if a little achey and painey. Two weeks ago she visited a psychic. As soon as she walked in the psychic (not an astrologer) said "What are you doing here, you should be dead. You should have died last year". Poor Geoff. When she arrived home, he got an earful, about what sort of an astrologer was Chris, I hadn't told her or warned her of anything like that. When she had calmed down, Geoff told her what I had said to him, and she admitted that had I said anything to her, she would have had a 2 year long anxiety attack, which ultimately would have given her a heart attack and killed her.
Did I do the right thing? I honestly don't know. All turned out for the best, (in my opinion and judgement) so I have to assume I did, but I honestly don't know what is the best thing to do in a case like this.
I have been using death as the specific prediction being made here, but the same argument equally applies to predictions of severe illness (especially if accompanied by an actual diagnosis) accidents, relationship splits, financial ruin etc etc.
This begs the question of collusion between client and astrologer which Maggie Hyde covered so well in her article in the 1995 March Journal. Maybe the astrologer is supposed to be instrumental in what happens to the client. Maybe a major trauma, even death for the client is meant to be triggered by the astrologer. This is a theme often used by StarTrek writers, but in StarTrek, inevitably Captains Kirk, Picard and Janeway change the course of that destiny so that everyone is happy ever after, in spite of the Prime Directive. We don't have that luxury, and nor are boundaries of our Prime Directive as clearly defined, or as able to be consciously broken as it is for them. We simply don't know.
Like medicine and law, we have specific guidelines to counselling laid out in the FAA Code of Ethics. But how many of us regularly review this Code. Maybe we need more than a Code, maybe we need Rules and Regulations. Like medicine and law, there is also a natural code of ethics. In law it is called justice, and we are seeing precious little of it in today's society. For the medical profession, and healers of all kinds, it comes up with the questions of euthanasia and abortion, and allowing the patient to make their own choices and whether or not they should be allowed to make their own decisions about treatment in spite of the consequences. The lawyers and the doctors have something in common with astrologers. They are not God. They may be experts, but they have no right to depower, or destroy another human being because of their personal arrogance and belief in their own infallibility.
We are hampered severely by two things. Lack of education of the public re what they should expect from an astrologer, and the reluctance of those who have been hurt as Mary has to come forward and make formal complaints either to us, or to consumer affairs. Even Mary doesn't want anything done about Harry, because he is a close friend of John's, and understandably she doesn't want to upset John. At the time of writing, I have not been able to change her mind. Ethically (and possibly legally) I have no right to do anything against her express wishes.
I would welcome more discussion on this question. It is crucial and fundamental to astrologers everywhere.
Copyright © 1996 by Chris Turner
All rights reserved
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CHRIS TURNER is Principal of the "Chiron School of Astrology" which offers courses for the beginner to advanced, to FAA Practitioner's Certificate level. For more information, visit Chris Turner's website at: http://www.chironastrologyschool.com/ or email Chris at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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