Last night my cousin asked me “what is astrology?” Just then it dawned on me that I really didn’t have a pat answer for someone who is completely unfamiliar with Astrology. “Can you tell me a good book to read?” he asked.
There doesn’t seem to be much available to answer such a simple question. With no easy answer it is easy to see how Astrology is often couched as a “pseudoscience.” Someone seeking to learn astrology, on the other hand, has many options. My knee jerk recommendation is to pick up anything written by Noel Tyl and especially The Creative Astrologer. But in this case, I didn’t offer my usual advice.
“The Only Way to Learn About Astrology,” a series of books written by March and McEvers introduced a generation of seekers to Astrology in the early 1980’s, but still probably more than was being asked for because the question was “What” not “How.” He just wanted to know “What Astrology Is,” which is like asking what art is, or music, or religion for that matter.
What is art?
Art is creative self-expression through the development of skills combined with imagination in a way that produces objects such as sculpture or painting (or landscapes) that are aesthetically beautiful. The experience of making and SEEING artwork can be powerful, emotionally evocative, and help express life’s meaning.
What is music?
Music like art attends to the beautiful. Voice and instrument together can orchestrate sound to produce pleasant experiences that are pleasing to the ear, and appeal to the heart and mind. A sense of harmony underpins the theory of combining notes, and a sense of timing gives form and structure to the airwaves that touch our sense of hearing in ways that can move us literally and figuratively.
What is religion?
Religion appropriates art and music as accompaniment in the replication of stories meant to symbolize meaning in the practice and ritual of belief. Religious symbol represents a manufactured concept, often a derivative of the thing symbolized, that aids in explaining or connecting us to a story of origin. Like art and music, religion can evoke a sense of beauty. The expression of emotional devotion can be an all-consuming energy, but as we’ve seen in history the inverse of this expression can be seen as well, the pathology of xenophobia for example, or the fundamentalist mindset, explodes every now and again with full demonic fury under the guise of religion.
Such distortions are seen in many creative expressions and in every discipline. Human behavior is experienced across a wide spectrum of potential within the garden of good and evil and not beyond. We live and die here on Earth, and before we elaborate further on the question of art, music and religion, we might want to know what kind of art, music or religion we are speaking about.
Similarly, to answer the question “what is Astrology” provides a dilemma. Is it one of a kind, or many? My Astrology is merely “My Astrology!” But is my perspective clearly better than yours? Or superior to yours especially in the case where you have none? Am I a better painter because I negate the abstract expressionism of Picasso, or the textured contemporary commentary of Basquiat? Or is it simply that I lack their imagination? Their creativity?
All art is art, and the same can be said for music. We might argue the same for religion. Even though we might not like certain “kinds,” we can just chalk it up to our preferences being different, but we can still agree that all astrology is astrology. So, if we agree that, like art, music, and religion, there are many kinds of astrology that have evolved since the beginning of time, then perhaps the distinctions found in either case are merely a matter of taste.
My friend and co-host on the Hudson Valley Astrologer Podcast, Alexander Mallon sent me this pic on my phone yesterday as we were kibitzing over this question, what is Astrology? Google image search brought me to a page maintained by NASA, formerly the NASA Lunar Science Institute, now Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, or SSERVI. I referenced this very same article in my last post. The take away is that people have been observing the sky, and building “number sets” going back to c.32000 B.C. We have been searching the sky for eons in order to better comprehend our place in the universe; to better understand ourselves. The drama the ancients depicted in their stories and myths were shaped by the drama they imagined they saw in the sky, that the movement of the planets, their gods, were harbingers of things to come. The drama of the gods was a reflection of life working itself out in life experience on Earth. So, it is not too dramatic to suggest that “once upon a time” Astrology, the “study of the stars,” touched everything. Astrology is the color spectrum in art, and all the possible combinations of color. Astrology is the order of musical notes arranged by pitch that create various scales in composition. Religious icons have appropriated certain forms and symbols from Astrology, and are replete within spiritual practices the world over and across many faiths. In a sense Astrology contains ALL the creative explorations of our imagination, including science. Symbol in Astrology is not merely a representation of something; In Astrology The Symbol is the thing symbolized.
Already, someone who has never heard of Astrology is looking up from their soup like they heard a dog whistle. “Huh?” Head cocked to the side; brow furrowed into a question mark. All of the above is to say that I really want to answer the question “What is Astrology?” but which astrology should I use to describe my answer? If the question posed was “What is Art?” What art should I use to describe Art? It’s a dilemma because people assume they “know” what art is, but not Astrology. Only astrologers presume to “know” Astrology, and they’ll argue about “what it is” until the cows come home.
Let’s look at Jean-Michel Basquiat’s chart. In the early 2000’s I sat down with a friend of Jean-Michel. He showed me an unsigned drawing that Basquiat was doodling at the kitchen table one morning while they both shared a joint and a cup of coffee. It was early in the 1980’s, that era’s version of the breakfast for champions I suppose. My friend said they were so high that he accidentally knocked his cup over and spilled coffee across the top of the page. When he went to clean it up and save the drawing Basquiat freaked out and screamed “NOOoooo! Don’t touch it! You’ll ruin it,” and stopped him from wiping up the spill. “There are no accidents!” he said. And sure, enough you can see where the wipe began but then where it was summarily interrupted by Jean-Michel. “Perfect! Even better!!” Jean-Michel whispered in a calm somewhat ethereal voice, relieved no doubt to have preserved the fates.
I used the biography written by Rene Ricard based on his article The Radiant Child, not to be confused with the documentary film by the same name: The Radiant Child. The goal was to rectify Basquiat’s chart for an assignment that earned me my Masters Certificate in Astrology. I titled the paper There are no Accidents. It’s been almost 20 years and today I might change a few things, but at a glance the chart holds up. My teacher had no idea who Basquiat was, but I was consumed. I had been obsessed ever since watching the film Basquiat in 1996 with David Bowie playing Andy Warhol. A few years after earning my masters, around the time of my birthday in 2017, Basquiat’s painting, let’s call it “Mind-blown,” sold for record $110.5 million. It was 29 years after his death. An astrologer would point out that this time period represents the time it takes for Saturn to make one complete orbit around the Sun, The Saturn Cycle. It is often a significant time in development, and referred to in Astrology as the Saturn Return. In Jean Michel’s case it was the Saturn Return of his death (i.e., Astrology). 8 months later in November of 2017, another Basquiat was up for auction alongside a Vija Celmins (Vija is worth searching for her extraordinary paintings of Saturn, comets, and the night sky). In between these great painters was the supposed piece of an old master, an acclaimed original work by Leonardo that fetched an even more mind-blowing gavel at $400 million. But like Astrology itself, some experts challenge the authenticity of the claim as to whether or not the Salvator Mundi is real or fake. “Mind-Blown’s” time in the Sun was brief, a poetic statement perhaps of Basquiat’s life which itself was much too short. Here is his rectified chart with a 23 Degree Scorpio Ascendant.
At the 2:07 time mark in the documentary mentioned above, if you hit pause, you will see the image below. A correspondence in rhyme that suggests art may be a matter of taste: Basquiat’s “Salivary Gland”
It took me awhile to find the reference using Google image search. I saved the image to my phone when it came up on a “fan” page for Jean-Michel Basquiat on Twitter under the account name @artistbasquiat. I wasn’t able to find the standalone photograph for this particular work when suddenly the image flashed into view on the slide show while watching the introduction to the documentary. When you queue up the film be sure to pay attention to the song selected for the intro. It’s by one of Basquiat’s favorite musicians, Charlie Parker. The song is called “Salt Peanuts.” Good taste! Indeed!
In this work we see Pluto conjunct Jupiter from the mind’s eye of an artist, AND the word “salivary gland.” How fascinating that 32 years after his death, with the Covid-19 pandemic in full throttle, we would learned that one of the earliest symptoms of the disease involved people losing their sense of taste. Jupiter was conjunct Pluto April 4th, June 30th, and November 12th of 2020. The correspondence of Jupiter and Pluto to salivary glands is not written in any Astrology texts that I am aware of, but it was surely captured by Basquiat’s raw genius. Science still doesn’t understand why Covid causes a loss of our sense of taste. The saliva glands (classic sources link the planet Venus to taste) only enable the gustatory cortex to “make sense” of what we eat. But how remarkable if and when the connection is made between Covid and the salivary glands, that the spiked proteins attack and alter their function somehow. This is Art. This is Astrology!
Like art Astrology helps us make sense of the world. Perhaps you removed some earth today, clearing a berm, that cut a path from the house to a stream nearby, adding rocks, boulders, and bluestone for both aesthetic and functional appeal. Reconnecting the inhabitants of the house to their sense of Earth and Water! This is Astrology.
This is also the Art of Work on full display and a brilliant expose of “a day in the life.” A “day” over 60 years in the making. Essentially, astrological counseling is a process that aims at a something similar, excavating and scanning the past to see how it informs the present, so as to clear a view, and see what’s up ahead. Astrology connects us to our story so that we can see our way clear, and listen to the babbling brook if one happens to be nearby, but in this case the conversation is much more than stream of consciousness. Astrology counseling is a process that is altogether a different thing from mere prediction. The conversation weaves symbolic threads together in a way that captures a portrait of the personality, and often there is core image that is hiding behind a mask, the persona, a facade of who we portray ourselves to be. Our personality projection to the world can be wrapped up in the clothes of the roles we play, and how we act may not necessarily aligned with that core image. When the individual’s work is aligned with their inner core, however, then the ART OF LIVING is fulfilled in the ART OF WORK (click the link to buy the book). The power and beauty of having an astrological discussion is that it allows for objectivity that is otherwise difficult to achieve without the tool provided by the horoscope in synthesis. It came up in dinner conversation that this function sounds awfully close to what a guided journey under the influence of psilocybin sounds like, only in the case of Astrology there are no mushrooms required.
We can get into more technical discussions about “what” Astrology is, and we will but for this post I do not want to miss the practical connection, that astrological counseling can help make the ART OF LIVING better. The horoscope as a tool in the right hands can illuminate past experiences, especially emotionally charged experiences, and bring those events to mind in astonishingly vivid and concrete ways, but at a safe distance if those remembrances are painful, or uncomfortable. And check you bags at the gate because consultations are rarely done without emotion. Connecting the foundational elements of the early home life to the lived experience in the present, grounded in secure emotional sharing is the essence of counseling; cutting “a path from the house to a stream nearby.” For sure the horoscope in synthesis guides discussion in miraculous ways, and when done well, can feel transformational. At other times the discussion may only rise to the level of getting your hair cut, or having the grass mowed.
I think the physical presence of Astrology is unconsciously locked within each one of us and expressed in our everyday experience. In reality the planets are not “doing” anything to us, but internally the planets represent deep personal needs, ambitions and aspirations, that vibrate as personality, and that we recognize in individual behavioral patterns. What we ‘experience’ corresponds with the cosmos, and why not since we are but a small speck of a much grander system, since we are simultaneously wholly apart and one part of the whole. This is what is meant by “Astrology rooted in the reality of the world.” How we feel in a particular situation and whether or not we realize our full potential, is related to an alignment of energy expressed through the “work” we do.
Astrology is an art that reflects the ART OF LIVING; Astrology is not deterministic hokum. The creative element in Astrology is a type of listening, to the harmony of the spheres, as the astrologer learns to communicate the horoscope’s meaning through a “shared view” (inter-view: literally “seeing together.”) and horoscope synthesis. The consultation being part inspiration and part knowledge, combines the wisdom of the ages with what we know about life. The art of Astrology is only limited by a lack of imagination, and the goal of Astrology is self-understanding, or ultimately perhaps enlightenment. But my efforts are focused exclusively on the self-understanding part since the enlightenment part is above my pay grade. We will leave the latter task to the Avatars of the Age.
What is Astrology?
I tell clients at the start of every session is that “the horoscope is a snapshot of the sky at the time you were born, where you were born. The first thing we notice with each chart is how certain patterns emerge. And these patterns have a fascinating way of corresponding to patterns of behavior in life development.” From that launch point we proceed to discuss the patterns within the client’s life guide by the patterns in the birth chart. “My Astrology” is based on “Humanistic Astrology.” An objective, counseling approach that appreciates all the progress humanity has made since Astrology first seeped out of India, flowed into Greece, and then saturated the rest of Western culture (read my previous post). A fact that few astrologers or historians agree with, but an essential one because it puts the current nostalgia for all things Hellenistic into perspective. At the end of the day, more than any particular kind of Astrology practiced by your astrologer, what’s most important is the astrologer’s approach to life because life informs Astrology much more than Astrology informs life. If you come face to face with an ego that wants to bop you over the head with the inverse of this reasoning, run the other way.
I once listened to a preacher’s sermon at the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan called “A Lover’s Quarrel with God.” Dr. Maurice Boyd was a charismatic preacher who drew crowds but apparently criticism as well. He was eventually forced out of his leadership position by the board of the church. They apparently didn’t think he was “Presbyterian enough,” or something. It was a great sermon. The title of his sermon was undoubtedly appropriated from Robert Frost’s poem called “I had a Lover’s Quarrel with the World.” Frost used the phrase as his epitaph which he had etched on his grave stone. The poem is a clarion call to live our life, by encouraging readers to remember that we all only have a limited time on this earth. We only share one small portion of the circle. “We can’t appraise the time in which we act…”3 he wrote, and vow allegiance to the “doctrine of Memento Mori,” a reminder, and motivation that everyone dies. It’s a wise truth that I think we sometimes forget, morbid as it seems.
What is Astrology?
Astrology is a lover’s quarrel with God! To which I hold its doctrine of Memento Vivere. Remember to live!