Why a Reading is of Limited Value
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The Art of Reading a Birthchart
Astrologers routinely interpret charts for clients, who want to know what they mean. It is understandable that clients should want their most pressing questions answered, and it can be a valuable service for astrologers to accommodate them or at least provide some insight. But by setting up the expectation that a birthchart can be interpreted in a 90-minute session, the traditional model fails to realize astrology’s potential as a true language of soul. One of the primary differences between traditional astrology and astropoetics is the limited use of the interpretive model in approaching the meaning of a birthchart.
The limits of the reading format may not be obvious to those who take astrology’s potential for granted, or use it on a daily basis with clients.
The birthchart is the symbolic reflection of a highly subjective reality. It cannot be understood very deeply from the outside, in the same way that your innermost thoughts cannot easily be known from the expression on your face.
This is why the best astrologers take their knowledge of astrology with them lightly into a reading with a stranger, only gradually bringing it to bear upon the chart in front of them through a participatory dialogue. Astropoetics takes this one step further by encouraging each individual to use the birthchart as a point of departure for an internal dialogue, and a framework in which to explore life’s questions from the inside out.
The birthchart cannot be “read” in the same way that you read a book, or even deciphered as though you were reading a book written in code.
The symbols of a birthchart have multiple meanings, which change over time depending on the question posed to them, the phase of life at which the question is posed, and the frame of mind of the one posing the question. The expectation established in the interpretive model is that once a chart has been read by a competent reader, it has yielded its secrets once and for all. Nothing can be further from the truth. Students of astropoetics are instead taught how to use the birthchart as a platform for ongoing self-inquiry, with the expectation that a steady stream of fresh information will be forthcoming.
The deepest meaning of the birthchart is not within the birthchart itself.
By focusing on the birthchart itself – which is often what happens in a typical reading of the chart by an astrologer for a client – the illusion is perpetuated that the knowledge and the wisdom to live a conscious life exists somewhere outside of yourself. In and of itself, the birthchart means nothing. It is the consciousness that is channeled through the life reflected by it that gives the symbols meaning.
The Astropoetic Model
What an astropoetic approach to astrology can provide is a point of access to what you already know about yourself and about your life from having lived through a body of experience and learned from it. It can also point you in the direction of your next step with no guarantee that you will take it.
For these reasons, astropoetics deviates from the interpretative model by making the radical suggestion that:
The meaning in a birthchart can only be truly understood by its owner.
At its best, astrology can provide a language of self-inquiry and a framework for self-reflection; and
This is a learning process that will evolve as you bring more consciousness to the symbolism.
An Example from My Life
For an example, let me take an incident from my own life that will serve as the point of departure for an astropoetic exploration I plan to continue over the course of my next few blog posts. This example is adapted from my book, The Seven Gates of Soul: Reclaiming the Poetry of Everyday Life, which outlines an astropoetic approach to astrology as part of a larger dialogue about the nature of the soul.
In my chart, I have a tight square (aspect of 90°) between Mercury and Mars. A traditional astrologer would interpret this aspect in the course of a more comprehensive interpretation of my chart. Instead, using this aspect (and the birthchart as a whole) as a point of entry to a process of self-reflection, I would begin by observing my life for unusual events whenever the original natal aspect was triggered by current transit.
In particular, according to the astropoetic model, I would find major hard aspects (primarily the conjunction, waxing or waning squares, or oppositions) of transiting Mercury and/or Mars to the natal aspect to provide prime opportunities for self-observation and reflection. As I was writing Seven Gates, I encountered such an opportunity during a transit of Mars conjunct my natal Mercury, in the wake of a car accident in which my previous partner and I were broadsided by a woman whose car had no brakes. In Seven Gates (pp 360-362), I wrote:
If I were simply going to interpret this event from an astrological perspective, I could say that it was a reflection of the fact that the potential for accidents (Mars) was high while traveling (Mercury), and that angry (Mars) communication (Mercury) was caused in a conflict between two people moving at cross purposes to one another (a description of the square between transiting Mars and natal Mars).
An apt cookbook interpretation for this transit admonishes me that “if (I) drive anywhere in a car, (I should) be careful not to speed. (I) may be inclined to recklessness and risk-taking while (I) travel, which can lead to accidents.” Of course I would argue that it was the other driver that was speeding and being reckless, but the cookbook interpretation of this transit does point to the need to be careful while traveling, and most astrologers would consider it to be uncanny in its relevance. The same interpretation also suggests that “today (my) ego is unusually involved in communication with others. Consequently, (I am) unusually touchy and irritable and likely to get involved in disputes….” (Hand, Planets in Transit 232) – another appropriate reference to my actual experience.
Meanwhile, the car with no brakes was aptly symbolized by Mars, while Mercury represents awareness which, in this case, was peripheral. Mercury never saw Mars coming, in other words, and was broadsided because of it. If you consider the fact that we were hit by a vehicle moving at right angles to us, the whole accident can be construed as a graphic depiction of the square between natal Mars and transiting Mars (two vehicles entering the intersection perpendicular to each other). All of this is of little help to me after the fact, although it does accurately describe what happened in a way that validates traditional astrological technique – as far as it goes.
From the astropoetic perspective, however, an accurate description of the event itself is less important than the sensory and emotional content of the image evoked during the experience, and so that is where we will begin our exploration.
On the sensory level, all I really remember when I close my eyes and recall the event is the sound of crunching metal, breaking glass, and a horn – sensory cues the reader may recognize as a sensory signature for Mars – one that was loud, staccato, piercing, palpable, sharp, and metallic, tinged perhaps by the agitating, disorienting, ozonous flavor of Mercury.
Emotionally, I am aware of a progression of three distinct states of being. First, before the accident, I felt calm, relatively content with life in general, and looking forward to what I was planning to do that evening. Immediately after the accident, I felt vulnerable in the midst of forces beyond my control that literally smashed into my contentment. As the event itself began to register, it was my anger that came to the surface, seeking an appropriate outlet. This response can be identified as typical – on an interpretive level – of an issue traditionally related to a Mercury-Mars square, that is to say, the need to learn how to effectively communicate and discharge anger.
What emerges from a closer consideration of the emotional content, however, is a new piece of the puzzle, for this is not just anger directed toward another, traceable to a specific incident – although in this case, it was that. It was also anger experienced in the face of a situation I could not have seen coming and that was beyond my control.
The vulnerability I felt in the midst of this experience, and at the core of my anger was an opening to soul – to that place where the impending, but unpredictable fact of my mortality potentially creates a deeper connection with my own essence. I say “potentially” because in order to benefit from this opportunity, I will have to go through the opening, and experience the nexus of images waiting to be explored.
In my next post, I will share what happened when I actually did go through the opening.
The next post in this series is The Cyclical History.
To read more blog posts, go here.