The Patterns in Our Lives
Astrology, we often say, is about correspondences between earth and the heavens. But which earthly phenomena correspond to which heavenly phenomena, in what ways do they correspond, and how do we know they do? Resolving these problems both contributes to and depends upon the resolution of a second set: How is it that something like astrology can exist, if we assume or believe we’ve proved that it does? What must reality and/or astrology be like?
Recurrent psychological states as levels of being and change
What does it mean to say that a celestial and a terrestrial situation correspond? To me it suggests that when one is present the other is, and that if either is absent they both are. The best way I’ve found to look for such correspondences is to look for recurrent developments in history and in people’s lives and see if there’s a configuration that recurs at the same intervals and times.
Thus Sigmund Freud’s life can be seen to be divided into a series of seven or eight-year phases in which the (implied) transition periods between phases — 1875-76, 1882-83, 1889-90, 1896-97, 1905, etc. — correspond with recurrent hard-angle (conjunction, square, opposition) Saturn/Mercury transits. [See Freud’s chart data]
Within each phase Freud’s set of scientific beliefs stayed more or less the same from beginning to end. Therefore those beliefs are what changed as he moved from one phase to the next during the Saturn/Mercury transits. They changed because Freud experienced an upsurge of uncertainty about his beliefs at seven to eight-year intervals – that is, during the Saturn/Mercury transits. Studies of other lives have led me to believe that doubt and uncertainty, and perhaps underlying it a certain kind of intellectual sobriety, are a general characteristic of this transit cycle, although the cycle itself doesn’t stand out as sharply in most people’s lives as it did in Freud’s.
Doubt and uncertainty are psychological states, not events in the sense that astrologers usually use the term. I think this is generally the case, that what recurs at regular intervals and coincides with recurrent transits is not events in the world but states of mind inside the individual. Each cycle, Saturn in relation to Mercury, Saturn in relation to Venus, Jupiter in relation to the Sun, Mars in relation to (natal) Mars, etc., has a different recurrent psychological state. The cycles of different transiting planets refer to different levels of change and to different levels of the psyche. A colleague, during the year or so period of Saturn’s transit over his Ascendant began to see himself in the role of astrological consultant, and during one of the Mars/Mars transits within that period made a decision to put an ad in the yellow pages and start taking clients. That Mars-timed decision made sense against the background of the shift in self-image timed by the Saturn transit, and was at the same time a more immediate manifestation of it. As a result his new daily routine involved taking phone calls from clients, setting up consultations, doing chart work in preparation for those consultations, meeting with his clients, and making referrals, all of which were concrete embodiments of his new self-image.
Similarly, his Saturn transit made sense in terms of and was the concrete embodiment of changes that occurred during his Uranus opposite Uranus and Neptune square Neptune Midlife Transition. Prior to that, thanks to his scientific ideology (he was and is a practicing geologist), astrology had not been for him the sort of thing that could be true. During this several-years-long transition his ideas about reality changed in ways that enabled astrology to exist for him. Thus, his change in self-image made sense in terms of his emerging belief in the existence of astrology, and was at the same time a more immediate manifestation of it.
I see this nesting of episodes within events, with each episode in turn being an event containing its own briefer episodes, as being equivalent to the way a battle is an episode in a larger event, the war, while containing briefer episodes, skirmishes, which contain still briefer episodes, the acts of individual soldiers. The briefer events, in turn, manifest the larger events of which they’re a part. Individual soldiers fighting is what manifests the skirmish as an event, without skirmishes there is no battle, and without battles there is no war.
Transit cycles and the development of personality
I think transit correspondences are also a route to understanding the natal chart. If a given configuration says something about what the person who has it is like, what is the connection between the configuration and that fact? How did the person come to be that way? For instance, I have Saturn and Mars at 24°53′ and 27°06′ Cancer. What does this mean? For one thing, it means that every time Mars transits conjunct, square or opposite its natal place it also transits natal Saturn. During Mars/Mars hard-angle transits matters come to a head with regards to our daily routine, including not only what we do but also who we interact with. (Love affairs tend to begin and end, and marriage proposals or separations to occur, when the instigator is experiencing Mars hard-angle natal Mars.) But nothing overt happens during many of these transits, and I think the predictable “event” is a kind of restlessness, which is itself indicative of a part of the psyche being temporarily in the forefront of consciousness, thereby causing or making us aware of latent dissatisfactions, which sometimes rise to the level that we feel we have to do something about them. In developmental terms, the first Mars Return coincides with the transition, in the Piagetian system, from the sensorimotor period to the preoperational period. This is when we “get it” about how words and things relate to each other. This and other developments at this time imply the existence of a motivational “force” that is the same each time it occurs, even though the event outcome differs.
My account of Mars/Saturn will be even sketchier and less certain. I think of it essentially as timing a period of inhibition, during which we’re more than usually aware, whether or not consciously I’m not sure, of the consequences, particularly the social consequences, of any actions we might take. In some sense I think we manage to bring those consequences down upon our heads, a kind of what-I-have-feared-has-come-upon-me situation. Grant Lewi (Astrology for the Millions) viewed the squares and the opposition in this cycle as periods when we’re likely to come a cropper if we push our luck too far.
Now imagine the developmental consequences of always having these two recurrent “influences” coincide. Every time I feel the urge during Mars/Mars to bring to a head whatever issues have been hanging fire, a simultaneous Mars/Saturn transit is causing me to feel inhibited, which probably not only keeps me from doing some things but even more likely gives a characteristic shape or psychological spin to what I do end up doing. Year after year, transit after transit, a set of propensities, a personality pattern, builds up. Dealing with the same issues won’t necessarily cause people with the same aspect to develop the same specific behaviors, but I think their behavior can be seen as stemming from the same recurrent challenges. Behind different coping behaviors we may find the same thing being coped with, for instance an exaggerated fear of humiliation.
Notice I have referred only to planets and the Ascendant, to aspects, and to transits. If we restrict ourselves to these factors, which I believe are the only ones that are valid, it then becomes possible to reconcile prediction and free will, mechanism and individuality, psychological astrology and event-oriented astrology. In this view different transit cycles correspond to different parts of the psyche, each of which comes to the forefront for a relatively brief period at hard-angle intervals, and then recedes into the background during the much longer periods in between. During these relatively brief periods we’re more likely to become dissatisfied or uncomfortable and therefore motivated to change things.
During the Mars Return, for instance, if there are latent dissatisfactions with our daily routine, I think this is when they’re most likely to bother us enough that we feel that we have to do something. The Mars transit, however, doesn’t indicate what we will do, only what area of life we’re dissatisfied with. It doesn’t and can’t contravene free will. In fact, free will is emphasized in this approach, because the hard-angle transits correspond to the periods when we’re most likely to want to make changes, the times we’re most likely to employ free will in deciding what to do. In between transits we feel less of a need to change (in terms of that part of the psyche) and simply continue along the line laid down during the last hard-angle transit.
An embarrassment of riches: why traditional astrology seems to work
If this possibility has been difficult for astrologers to imagine, I think it’s at least partly because most of us expect astrology to do so much more than can be accounted for by this scheme. We want to know why the taxi we were riding in crashed, why our favorite uncle died, why the firm we work for went out of business, why our house burned down, why the radiator broke and much, much more that I think has nothing to do with knowledge of any kind of natural order and everything to do with having a bag of magic tricks that gives us the illusion of knowing anything we want to know, whether or not it’s knowable.
If these things are not possible, why do so many of us think they are? The answer is, we learn to do and think astrology by imitating paradigms, or accepted problem solutions, which in astrology are the delineations the student uses as models when she sets out to do it herself. What we are generally unaware of is the extent to which our reasoning processes as astrologers are shaped by exposure to paradigms in ways that are essentially invisible to us. We are more often than not attracted to astrology because we think it’ll enable us to predict things, but we’re baffled at first by an embarrassment of riches. We can account for so many things we don’t know what to predict. But at some point things fall into place and the student is henceforth able to do astrology the way other astrologers do it. What has she learned? I think one of the most important things she has learned is how not to predict while thinking she is.
It’s striking how little genuine prediction astrologers actually do. We mostly deal with known events. When considering an event we appear to assume that if a significant configuration was in effect at that time, and if the symbolism fits the event, that’s “the” time period and event astrology indicates and would have predicted if we’d applied it before the fact. So we tend to see it as a prediction, sort of, because we see it as what astrology predicted, whether or not the individual astrologer saw it or got it right.
When we do make an actual prediction it often takes the form of, The president will be in the news this month. Since the president is in the news every month the only meaningful part of such a prediction, the personal, national or global crisis he has to deal with this month, is unfortunately the part we don’t know until after the prediction has “come true”, at which time those “details” become in the astrologer’s mind something akin to “what I meant”.
Predictions in other contexts are similar in that the prediction is capable of being “confirmed” by a wide variety of possible events. Usually it’s vague and open-ended, but even specific but apparently wrong predictions can be salvaged. The predicted death didn’t occur? Of course it did. It was the “death” of a dream, a way of life, a relationship, etc. Thus, death is invoked metaphorically in a way that obscures the fact that we really had no idea what was going to happen.
Finally, consider the astrologer/client interaction: “She told me things about me that nobody knows!” But the client knows, and neither realizes how much the astrologer picks up from body language, by reading between the lines, and more or less directly via client “feedback”. The astrologer throws out vague generalities that sound specific and the client, knowing his or her own past and self and seeing it in those generalities, excitedly confirms, offering details that the astrologer then comments on more fully, in a back and forth process in which neither realizes how much is coming from the client rather than the astrologer.
These are of course caricatures of actual practices, which are often more sophisticated and subtle than such a crude account might suggest, but I think astrologers overwhelmingly follow the pattern they illustrate, in which the astrologer unwittingly covers all bases in advance without being aware of that fact or its implications. The implications are that we can make anything fit and that astrology (in its present form) essentially predicts all things at all times and therefore nothing at all. From my perspective symbolism is merely the most important of a set of practices – a multiplicity of factors and techniques and an ideology that invites us to “use what works for you” are others – that are collectively the means by which we can make anything fit.
A mechanism for Astrology
This brings me back to my opening argument. How do we know that an apparent correspondence actually exists? Rather than taking the symbolistic fit as a de facto indication that it does, we should consider that two factors go together if and only if they regularly and predictably go together, that is, coincide again and again. Correspondences that fulfill this requirement fall into two broad categories, organic and inorganic. Tides and the seasons are examples of the latter. Symbolism is clearly irrelevant to both. When we want to predict the next high tide we don’t set up a chart and interpret the symbolism. We simply note that the tide will come in when the Moon is overhead and go out when it passes on. What the Moon means is irrelevant. Likewise for the seasons. We don’t have to ask what the Sun means. We need only know that we get more solar radiation in summer than in winter.
With organic correspondences, in contrast, material effects don’t determine the specific nature of the regularity. As the Moon passes overhead the tide comes in and the oyster’s shell opens, but gravity doesn’t physically open the oyster’s shell the way it raises the waters. Instead, the oyster uses the Moon’s pull as a signal to tell it when to open itself. That’s the implication of an experiment performed by biologist Frank A. Brown, Jr., in which he brought oysters from the east coast to Evanston, Illinois, where they soon began opening their shells at what would have been high tide if there had been a seashore there. Life has been able to use the planets as templates for the evolution of functional systems whose timing corresponds to planetary periods but whose content, the recurrent function or behavior, is determined by evolution, not by the planets’ symbolic meanings or material effects.
The oyster’s program directly causes it to do appropriate things at appropriate times, whereas ours accomplishes more subtle ends with motivations rather than automatic processes. Motivation is the psychological equivalent of force in physics. It’s what gets things done. Both motivation and automatic processes get things done that need to get done for the organism to exist and move through life, but the former allows for a vastly more complex repertoire of behaviors and the necessity of choice. It doesn’t determine a specific outcome but requires that the organism create a response to satisfy a felt need, with the need, not the response, being predetermined (although we can of course note which responses are common and/or apparently positive or negative).
Thus we can explain astrology if we consider it to be motivational rhythms. If the question is, what causes them to come into being in the first place, the mechanism is biological evolution. If the question is, why do the events or motives comprising a given correspondence pattern keep occurring on schedule, the mechanism is the inherited genetic program and associated neurobiological processes that trigger activities or needs. If the question is, by what means does the organismic clock use a planet to reset itself or otherwise stay “on time”, the mechanism is the material interaction between the two, including the biochemical means by which the organism is able to use that interaction for its own “purposes”
Chart Data – Sigmund Freud: 6:30 pm LMT, May 6, 1856. in what is now Pribor, the Czech Republic, from Ernest Jones’s The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud.
-by Dale Huckeby