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Walking the Path of Astrological Mastery

originally published in The Ascendant, Capricorn, 1995


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The art of astrological interpretation begins with a solid grounding in factual information - an accurate birth map, and a life history - and ends with an intuitive flight that transcends the facts, and brings the gift of elevated perspective to the realm of the mundane. The best readings are those that account for the hard reality of a life in progress, yet somehow also reveal the soul at work beneath the surface flow of logistical details, and trigger the imagination toward more liberating possibilities. When this happens, heaven and earth come together, and the person whose chart has just been read is energized to go about the business of life with a renewed and deepened sense of purpose.

In order for this ideal reading to happen, three essential ingredients must be in place. First, as practicing astrologers, we must have a thorough understanding of the astrological language, preferably based upon an intimate knowledge of our own chart in relation to actual life experience. Secondly, we must be able to use this knowledge of astrology as the springboard from which intuitive wisdom can leap. Lastly, we must be able to feel a soul-to-soul connection with the person for whom we are reading, and allow the reading to flow compassionately from this place of connection.

When we learn astrology, the focus is often only on the first of these three goals, namely acquiring the nitty gritty information necessary to understand the symbolism, and read a birthchart with some degree of skill and accuracy. While this is certainly a prerequisite to any practice of astrology, my feeling is that it does not go far enough in preparing us to make a significant difference in the lives of the people for whom we read. What is missing is the recognition that it is not a knowledge of astrology, but the consciousness of the astrologer who applies that knowledge, that determines whether a reading penetrates to the heart of the matter at hand, or merely entertains the intellect.

In order to practice astrology consciously, we must not only be versed in the astrological language. We must also learn to work with astrology as a tool for our own personal growth, and as a guide to self-actualization in daily life. Not only must we be able to talk the talk, but we must also actually walk the astrological path toward a realization of our own highest potential, as it is revealed by our birthcharts. Only then will we be able to use astrology to facilitate personal growth for others.

Obviously, the nature of the journey will vary considerably from astrologer to astrologer, depending upon the individual chart, and the personal issues revealed through an intensive study of that chart. The generic game plan for walking the astrological path, however, can be outlined in terms of an integrated balance between faculties symbolized by Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. It is only when all three of these planets are fully functioning with regard to the practice of astrology, that our work as astrologers will touch the level upon which facilitation of self-actualization is possible.

Saturn, of course, governs the realm where the language itself is studied, and all the rules of syntax and grammar are assimilated. No one can deny the necessity for a basic nuts and bolts knowledge of astrology before one is ready to practice. Saturn, goes far beyond this merely intellectual foundation, however, to demand an understanding of astrology that is rooted in personal experience. In walking the astrological path, Saturn requires us to do our homework, not only in the abstract, but also in the laboratories of our own life. At the very least, keeping an astrological journal in which we record our experience of each major astrological event as it impacts our charts and our lives is crucial to the grounding that Saturn requires.

Saturn also demands that we face the difficult tests of our life with commitment, determination, and perseverance, so that we might extract every last bit of juice it is possible to squeeze out of our most essential character, at each step along the way. If we are watching the movement of progressions and transits in relation to our natal chart, as we face life's difficult passages, we are gradually integrating our knowledge of astrology deep within the marrow of our bones.

Without this subjective integration, our readings will merely be a theoretical discussion of potentials and possibilities, or a dead rehash of someone else's experience written down in cookbook form. It is only when we can connect the abstract symbolism of a chart with the memory of an experience, that we can feel the life essence moving through the symbolism as we listen to our client's story. Our own experience, of course, always creates the best possible touchstone, but not all of us will have a direct experience of every astrological situation presented to us by our clients. Over time, as we listen to enough stories, and keep track of the astrological correlations to those stories, we begin to build a cumulative, collective memory that supplements our own. Lastly, and only third best, are the experiential accounts of case studies presented by other astrologers.

Even with all of this collective experience behind us, however, Saturn serves to remind us of the limitations of the rational mind in drawing conclusions on the basis of factual evidence. Deductive reasoning will only take us so far along the astrological path, before our readings begin to feel flat and lifeless. In truth, there are as many possible interpretations for each astrological configuration as there are people who have the configuration in their charts. If we are truly attuned to Saturn's message, we will listen, and learn, and gather new information with each reading that we do.

Along the path to astrological wisdom, Saturn requires us to be engaged in constant observation, compiling data from the real life stories that we hear, sifting and sorting that information for grains of truth. All the while, we must work from a place of humility that knows that all the grains of truth on the beach of life do not add up to anything absolute or definitive. If we can do the hard work of the scientist with the beginner's mind of a student of Zen, Saturn will reward us with access to our intuition.

Intuition, of course, is the realm of Uranus. Saturn prepares us for entering the realm of the intuition by giving us the confidence to trust ourselves. To the extent that we are learning from our own experience, and the experience of our clients, we are not only building an internal library of information, but we are gaining familiarity, increasing mobility, and more spontaneous access to that information. In the same way that a skilled research librarian can ride the databases of a computerized library, so, too, can we begin to use the information Saturn has compiled for us, in a new, more flexible, and more creative way, under Uranus' tutelage.

While Uranus is often considered an air, or mental planet, it is actually more concerned with the firing of neurological synapses than it is with mental processes per se. While Saturn proceeds methodically step by step toward the inevitable, predictable conclusion, Uranus bypasses this strictly linear process to make creative leaps of understanding that often feel self-evident, but are not always obvious to the rational mind. These leaps are made possible by the healthy functioning of a receptive nervous system. When the nervous system is functioning at an optimum level, the left brain and right brain work together synergistically, the head comes into balance with the heart, intuition is clean and clear, and astrological interpretation transcends the mere accumulation of data.

The process of tuning the nervous system to peak efficiency is also facilitated by Uranus. If we have done the hard Saturnian work of living as consciously as possible through the challenges of our life, we will know where our strengths and weaknesses lie, what works in various situations, what doesn't work, and where the boundary between capability and limitation must be respected. This familiarity with ourselves breeds a level of self-trust that Uranus can count on as it pushes us faster and farther than we normally might want to go. At its best, and with Saturn's help, Uranus facilitates an evolutionary process that brings us into each moment with all of our senses alive, all of our instinctual reflexes ready for spontaneous action, and all of our creative faculties at the here-and-now command of our basic sense of trust.

In this way, Uranus is like a river guide, inspiring us to tackle an unknown stretch of whitewater around the next bend. Before we enter the rapids, we can if we like, take some time to assess our situation, check our raft, look at a map, get our bearings, and make some strategic decisions about how to best negotiate our journey.

Once we are actually in the whitewater, however, we won't have the time, nor the inclination to stop and think about what we are doing. We will just be doing it, bringing all of our faculties to bear upon the task at hand. Ideally, we will move through the rapids with grace and fluidity, inspired by just the right combination of danger and adventure. It is in the midst of this Uranian whitewater, that the nervous system is tuned, and intuition is born.

The art of astrological interpretation is in fact, largely the art of learning how to use Saturn as a solid, reliable raft in which to traverse Uranian rapids intuitively and instinctually, without letting Saturn take obsessive control. If our knowledge of astrology is grounded in the hard earned lessons of real life, then we will have the confidence we need to negotiate the chart streams we enter with intuitive virtuosity. If all we have are the intellectual abstractions of book learning, we will either cling to the shallow depths of the shore, or we will be capsized emotionally by the real life situations we are asked to help navigate. To guide others on the river of life, we must start from the shore with a good Saturnian raft, and the knowledge of how to use it, but we must also meet the Uranian rapids on their own terms, free from the rigidity of the Saturnian rules we learned when we were back on dry land.

If we have a trustworthy canoe, and we become skilled at navigating the psychological whitewater of an in-depth reading, then we forge a bond with our client, not unlike that formed by co-adventurers who have shared a river trip together. In the midst of chaos and danger, the soul comes alive, and begins to shine more brightly through the veils of personality. When the veils come down in the midst of an intense experience, like a whitewater rafting trip, or an in-depth astrological reading, a bond of empathy is forged that allows one soul to touch another, however briefly. The shining of the soul, the veils that block it, and the empathy that bring two souls together when the veils come down, are all the domain of Neptune.

While Saturn deals with tangible realities, and Uranus with fast moving moments of transformation, Neptune governs the realm of slowly emerging realizations. When a thorough, intimate knowledge of astrology facilitates the flow of intuitive information during a skilled reading, there is an afterglow that permeates and infuses the aura of both astrologer and client, long after the reading has taken place. From the client's point of view, this afterglow is born of the feeling of being understood at last, of being seen for who s/he really is as a soul, and of being accepted unconditionally for who s/he is as a human being. Where Saturn analyzes and judges, and Uranus inspires and provokes, Neptune simply allows, and in that allowing, a deep sense of essence is revealed and released.

While Saturn's astrological teaching can be met head on, and Uranus' can be evoked and cultivated, Neptune's comes only as an act of grace, as a mysterious response to a sincere and sustained effort in directions suggested by the other two planets. In its highest manifestation, Neptune provides the intangible growth in consciousness that comes when the lessons of life are honored, and one musters the ongoing courage to enter Uranian streams with eyes wide open. This growth in consciousness is not something that can be measured or credentialed according to Saturnian standards, nor is it as dazzling or dramatic as Uranian virtuosity. But in its own quiet way, it will make the difference between a reading that merely entertains and one that leaves a lasting, slowly penetrating, and deeply moving impression with the capacity to facilitate meaningful change.

Of course, we all know Neptune's other side, the dance of illusion, where nothing is as it seems to be. If we begin with a superficial knowledge of astrological symbolism, untested in the rivers of life, and then enter Uranian whitewater we are not emotionally prepared to enter, that is exactly where we will be - lost in the swirling Neptunian waters of confusion. If, on the other hand, we can take the time to build a trustworthy raft, learn to maneuver that raft intuitively through reading after reading, and through life experience after life experience, gradually we will enter that mystical place where raft and river, river guide and passenger are One.

It is my belief that every astrologer must strike a balance between Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in order to practice astrology in an integrated way. Each of us must ground our knowledge in a basic understanding of the core meaning of a wide range of symbols and combination of symbols. Each must also learn to let go of this conscious preparation and allow the intuitive imagery to flow in order to feel the chart come alive in a reading. Over time, each must also come to know the Life essence that connects us all, and to recognize and unconditionally accept that Life essence in each client that comes to us.

Each astrologer must understand the chart as the map and the compass that it is, and learn to work with it as a precise tool for navigation through the experiences of life. Each must also develop the capacity to respond in the moment to the real life story of a client without letting astrological jargon, dogma, or even one's own past experience get in the way. Finally, each must learn to create a space in which the unique soul essence of each client can be registered and then released to transcend the limitations of maps and compasses completely.

This dance of balance between Saturn, Uranus and Neptune is of course different for each astrologer. Some astrologers tend to be more Saturnian by nature, in which case they must learn to relax, trust themselves to play and creative spontaneity, open the heart, and exercise the poetic imagination. Other astrologers are more Uranian, in which case they must learn to ground their virtuosity in real life experience, and slow down enough to feel their sacred connection to those for whom they read. Still other astrologers are more Neptunian, in which case they must learn to focus, to discriminate between truth and projected fantasy, and to exercise their intuitive faculties with a deepening clarity of intention.

If, as astrologers, we can dedicate ourselves, not just to mastering our craft, but to working consciously with all three of these planets, astrology will become a powerful tool for changing the lives of all those for whom we read. Not only will it be a language with which to speak of the wonders of this life, or a map and a compass with which to navigate. It will also be a path that we can walk and help others walk to a more fulfilling and more meaningful life.


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