No Plan B
The seven most damaging words in the English language are “don’t worry, you will figure it out.” If it were true, if it were helpful, then more people would in reality “figure it out” but the truth is hard to dispute. Most people do not in fact figure life out enough to choose the optimum path. Imagine instead when you asked for advice about what you should do with your life, that you asked an astrologer who was trained in answering that question more specifically, Further, think about how your life would transform if you approached life as if there were no plan b! The truth is that there is too much at stake to think otherwise. The problem is that the people close to us, from whom we seek conventional advice, do not have a sufficient map to answer the question. Rarely do the answers go beyond banal platitudes like “don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.” An astrologer’s approach to the horoscope, like an individual’s approach to life, matters. There is too much at stake to veer off the path and wander aimlessly holding an astrological finger in the air to see which way the cosmic wind is blowing. So, if there is in fact a better way to begin analysis, then, what is it?
In Verdi’s Nabucco, during the “Va Pensiero” scene, or in Moussorgsky ‘s opera Boris Godunov, in the Coronation Scene, the audience is introduced to the power and intensity of the crowd. Noel Tyl likened such dramatic gatherings on the opera stage to planetary clusters in the horoscope, what he called groupings of monumental proportion. He wrote about extreme hemisphere emphasis in his opus Synthesis and Counseling in Astrology. The passage on page 5 gets the student into the crux of his message without wasting any time, but not being an opera aficionado myself his example “fell on deaf ears.” My familiarity with opera was limited to The Who’s classic rock opera Pinball Wizard, my exposure to the more sophisticated art was akin to a deaf, dumb, and blind kid “playing a mean pinball.” I didn’t fully appreciate the opera reference until I queued up those scenes on YouTube to educate myself and attempt to understand Noel’s analogy better. Wow! “Long live the King!”
The gist of the comparison he makes to Astrology is that these gatherings, used in operatic dramas, are essential devices that reflect the shape of the narrative. The first impression of any chart hints at the story that needs to be told in the same way that staging an opera, or a drama, requires props, and precise positioning of the actors. Before a line is ever spoken the positioning of the actors on stage communicates something important about the plot that is about to unfold. These patterns in Astrology, the myriad positioning of the planets, communicate something important about the lived experience of a client. Noel’s powerful operatic reference is a demonstration that animates an important astrological construct about planetary groupings in the horoscope. As the plot of the opera builds, our attention is drawn to what matters. Tension builds as the drama reveals that there is something at stake, something worth fighting for. At some point in the action, we realize as the story reaches a culmination that there is no planet B. The writers and director know the end of the opera or play, but the audience does not. Apprehension fills the theater and is appropriated artfully to drive home a message. Conveying an accurate first impression of the chart at the outset of a consultation, like the director of an opera, is an important key to ascertaining the direction and plot of an individual’s life. There is no planet B, which is obviously a pun intended to communicate that we only have one life to live, like the Earth itself. The phrase is meant to draw you in, to help you understand the gravity of the first impression of the horoscope. Hemisphere emphasis is about the shape and texture of a cluster, the component parts if you will, that define the story in a way that brings color and meaning to the lines being drawn. Suddenly, there is a way into the horoscope, a reliable representation of a plot unfolding. The “Law of Naturalness” commands our attention as we goggle and gape at the gathering gaggle.
If you’ve not yet hit the link to see what’s up with Boris, let me encourage you. Do it now. Notice the ‘outstanding‘ elements that are set at a distance in the drama, a spectacle and sensation is created, and where there is an isolated figure an additional way of emphasizing the action of the crowd. But the intention of the crowd is never so obvious, not without close inspection. The eyes strain to separate the characters from one another, to distinguish one from the next and tell them apart. Who is the villain? Who is not? Unless you are familiar with the story, or unless the costumes help by signaling the emotional valance that is always at the ready in our brains, we know little about the plot, or how to feel about a character. However, even without conventional props, when a lone character emerges from the shade and steps into the light, the answer is illuminated in an instant by the action that unfolds in the story. Suddenly, we know! In Astrology, these “distinct actors” are separated by house and sign. They are called singletons. Invariably, a singleton represents a distraction away from the crowd. Our job is to integrate this outlier somehow back into the scene, to reintegrate their involvement meaningfully into the drama. This is how we get a handle on the scene, and better understand the story being told.
The singleton has been likened to a handle on a bucket as a way of suggesting how essential the singleton may be to the story, that the individuality factor through attachments (how a handle is fixed to its container) controls the crowd more than the other way around. So, to get to the task of deciphering the intention of the gaggle, with depth and significance, to know what a crowd might be up to, even under the guise of a melee for example, we must fully appreciate individual character involvement.
These opera scenes are powerful analogs for appreciating the magnitude of planetary cluster patterns in Astrology. Think of these scenes when you look at a chart. Feel the impact such horoscopic groupings have on the state of being and mood potentials. Memorizing the lines of the script, what each thing means, is unnecessary. Simply taking in the whole scene at once is more important to get to the gist of the tale being told, to understand how a person orients themselves to life and not wag the dog with secondary and tertiary distractions that are not pertinent. Watch either of the scenes linked above and you will always remember the significance suggested by hemisphere groupings in Astrology. Conversely, you will begin to understand the importance of individuality as well. Notice how each part lends a certain je ne sais quoi and significance to the scene, a quintessential and unique singularity? Ask how the part works with the whole? Why is it probable that one singularity gets lost in the crowd one time, but not the next? For example, if we do not look more closely, we will not see how the characters specifically try and reach out to each other in the drama in ways that affect the play. Each part has something to say. However, whether a horoscopic drawing has a dramatic grouping, a concentration of planets or not, isn’t necessarily the point. When there is a concentration and high focus within the chart it becomes second nature to recognize how a particular house or hemisphere is illuminated, and we can immediately feel what that pattern suggests in behavioral terms. Less obvious is when the houses and hemispheres are left empty, but when the artist analyst can draw correspondence to one hemisphere or another, then the subsequent discussion about an individual’s life registers a first impression that acts like a remarkable launch pad for discussion. Often there is incredible synchrony, and congruency suggested by the drama imprinted on the birth chart at the time and place of birth with life experience om Earth.
Hemisphere Emphasis is an astrologer’s best friend. A coup d’ oil that gives the lay of the land. However, in the same way intuition can be fallible, hemisphere emphasis is not always reliable. Still, even Napoleon would have been impressed. He of course was adept at assessing the field of battle “at a glance,” and with the “stroke of an eye” he’d determine the best approach to the task at hand and with lightning speed. Astrologer’s can see the “fields” of the horoscope as quickly, and “at a glance” take in the gist of a chart, feeling the gestalt of the horoscope, in an instant.
The best way into any chart, to begin a consultation, is to identify which hemisphere is highlighted. Determining this overarching pattern will emphasize the angle belonging to that hemisphere, or one of the houses in that hemisphere. Marc Edmund Jones identified seven patterns that astrologers have found useful: The Bundle, The Bowl, The Bucket, The Locomotive, The Splash, The Splay, and The SeeSaw. These shapes overtook astrological discussion for almost 90 years. Jones wrote about them in the 1940’s, and they persist to the present day, coming in and out of style. They have endured so long as a part of the conversation certainly because there must be some truth contained within them. Especially when one of these patterns appears well-formed and is reflected in a person’s life experience, the kind of first impression the chart creates does seem to correspond with a person’s reality in uncanny ways.
With Astrology’s ascent into the modern era, and with a much better understanding of what makes people tick from a psychological perspective, humanistic astrology has enjoyed a renaissance not seen since the time of Marsilio Facino (1433-1499) and given a broad boost by Claud Weiss the preeminent researcher and practitioner of Astrology from Switzerland. Assessing which hemisphere is emphasized, East, West, South, or North, provides a reliable first take and a consistent “way into the horoscope,” resulting in a terrific way to begin a consultation. The seven patterns Edmund Jones identified are generalized more broadly here as we consider hemisphere analysis. In this way, which hemisphere to emphasize avoids the “hit or miss” approach his analogies were prone to. Avoiding the “ups and downs” of a haphazard approach, itself tantamount to an overall “seesaw” approach, makes sense since we can eliminate getting a consultation off to a bad start. For example, by dispensing with the analogy of tying a client to a metaphorical railroad track, you reduce the risk of feeling like you just got run over by a train yourself, when they look at you like they just heard a dog whistle because your analogy fell like a lead balloon.
The concept of hemisphere emphasis is invaluable to gain efficiency in how the conversation begins. The astrologer’s job is to relate the horoscope to the client’s lived experience. To do this well we need to follow the guidelines outlined below that Noel Tyl identified and used in his practice with well over 20,000 consultative sessions:
- Initial Coup d’oeil: At center, any chart has a look and feel that comes to mind that is beyond intuitive. In a spirit of sharing, we learn to say what it is we see on the wheel. The initial coup d’oeil of a chart is about ascertaining how a person orients themselves to a direction in life. Does the horoscope lean East, West, South, or North? This assessment is done with the “stroke of an eye.”
- Hemisphere Emphasis focuses on the midpoint of the arc that describes the hemisphere. This point is also identified as one of the four angles of the chart. The angle emphasized is established by whichever hemisphere is highlighted. Amazingly, there is often an arc of behavior that corresponds to the initial impression accentuated by the observed astrological pattern, and this pattern envelopes core concerns related to personality development.
The four angels identify four orientations or attitudinal differences between people:
Ascendant = Self-awareness, self-rationalization
Descendant = Self-sacrifice, and an inclination toward others
I.C. = Self-rumination, excessively subjective about the past
M.C. = Self-exposure, life fashioned by experience in the world
These behavioral tendencies correspond to patterns in the chart and are accurate representations of behavior that are reflected in generalized attitudes toward life. In this way, people who share patterns in common seem to ‘collect’ behavioral mindsets that can be grouped under the same umbrella. When the same hemisphere highlights different individual charts, we recognize a pattern that suggests similar pressures of conditioning that can be compared across many natal charts. Each chart projects a shared response to stimuli from the environment and one inherently learned, but the individual disposition of each person’s response will of course vary.
Let’s take a closer look… under the umbrella.
The personality doesn’t set out to protect itself when the umbrella envelops the Eastern Hemisphere. Something must happen to trigger a defense response. We can visualize the energy of the personality collecting within the Ascendant (East), inside a large canopy of protection, the umbrella as it were. The individual response mechanism is conditioned reflexively, in the same way that a person learns to put their umbrella up in a sudden downpour to keep from getting wet. There is little thought given to such routine reactions. We can feel the metaphorical “shield” that is suggested if we hand draw an arc to encompass the Eastern Hemisphere, when the Ascendant becomes the focus, and we can feel the defense mechanism taut and ready to spring automatically when the individual is under duress. There is an inclination for justification that can be pronounced, unconscious, and comes out at the slightest hint of “weather,” the individual’s defenses go up to protect what’s inside, beneath the umbrella. Of course, an umbrella is a pointless tool to guard against lions, tigers, and bears, and much in the same way, psychological defense mechanisms often outlive their usefulness, the justifications expressed are themselves misplaced. Strategies that should have been retired long ago because they stopped working are still employed, unconsciously, and as if they might still work. But experience has repeatedly proved otherwise.
When the chart emphasizes the Western Hemisphere, it’s as if a gust of wind and rain gets in behind the umbrella and pushes all the protection outward, the ribs of the canopy snap back and collapse in on itself. Ego projection rushes inside out toward the Descendant. Self-importance energizes the opposite pole of the horizon and moves too quickly toward others away from self and toward self-sacrifice. The energy is too much for the self to contain and blows into areas beyond Self, being overly concerned about others, sometimes in great squalls of helpfulness. Sometimes extending personal attentiveness not out of the goodness of one’s heart, but out of anxiety for not being seen, or seen as valuable enough. The thrust toward others is overdone, but for the love of God, making oneself available and at the disposal of everyone else save the Self. The urge is to save the world. The pattern that emerges anticipates excessive servility and fawning to please others, to the point of giving away the store, in disregard of individual authenticity or what the self needs. Avoiding self-care and losing self-control to others, surrendering. In short, being a disservice to self…
An upright umbrella shields us from the Sun but keeps the light out. It can be dark and brooding beneath the wrapper of night, as if we are living under the influence of a perpetual eclipse. Light is suppressed beneath a veil of darkness. A pattern of emotional suppression is anticipated, the individual needs to rise above it all, and “see the light of day,” to emerge from beneath the self-imposed shade of revisionary thinking that gets in the way of progress. There is a need to get out from underneath the subjectivity of yesteryear, of storms long past. Self-talk, and excessive rumination about things that happened a long time ago will likely cast long shadows, ghosts of memories past prevent the behavioral adjustments necessary to draw the shades up, to “see the light of day.” The personality clings to the past unconsciously. Think of the Northern Hemisphere as drawing attention to the I.C., to the early home environment and life’s beginnings that correspond to constant mental agitation and anxious unrest, due to emotional neglect of some kind that haunts the personality well into adulthood. (Checking the condition of the 2nd House is always important, but especially in this case. Are there indications of self-worth anxiety, or a skein of depression perhaps?)
The Southern Hemisphere depicts an umbrella that catches the Sun, or the canopy is drawn in and down around the shaft to become more like a walking stick. You may feel you no longer need an umbrella, or you’ve simply forgotten and left the house without one altogether. So, now you have nothing to protect you from the elements, and there is a risk of overexposure. Too much Sun, or life experienced out in the wild of the world, life somehow fashioned by encounters with the world. But without basic protection a certain vulnerability accompanies experience. Without a shield to guard against the vagaries and harsh realities of life, growing pains can be more acute. Upsets and storms suddenly roll in from nowhere and catch you off guard. There may be a propensity for feeling taken advantage of or pushed around by the entanglements of circumstance. A victimization mindset is possible.
The crucial point in the southern direction is defined by the M.C., which suggests that the self will be on display, showing up in the world. Life is lived in the spirit and rhythm of a full immersion into light, so you might get burned. There is a sense of life being fated somehow, and the individual feels a deterministic pale covering the life path. Things are exactly the way they are meant to be. Feelings of being controlled or victimized by external events often accompany a select group of these individuals in the same way that someone who has forgotten their umbrella and left it at home thinks that a sudden and random downpour was meant for them.
The first impression of the horoscope is not a trite or shallow exercise. Determining the “direction” of the chart is essential for connecting the overall pattern emphasized in the horoscope with an individual’s orientation to life. When used correctly, as an opening salvo to invite a client to share their personal story, guided by Astrology, hemisphere emphasis can be an eloquent way to begin a good discussion. The hierarchy of symbolic significance in astrology is not a rigid absolute but does at times seem to touch the universal. The consultation is a beginning, and with hemisphere emphasis one of the best beginnings available to get you into the chart and into discussion. Next in order of importance would be the Sun and Moon Blend, but before we get there, I think I would like to delve into some example charts of hemisphere emphasis in the next few posts to follow.
Thanks so much for reading…