Milky Way

The Birthchart as a Portal
To a Journey of Self-Reflection

May 2014

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Moving Beyond Interpretation

It is standard practice for professional astrologers to receive requests from clients for “readings” of their birthchart, and then to proceed with an “interpretation.” The interpretation renders the birthchart understandable to a client, who may or may not be familiar with astrological symbolism. Different astrologers will approach this task differently, depending upon their training, experience, and philosophical worldview. But the intent is the same – to essentially decode the birthchart and translate its meaning into English, or whatever other language is spoken by the client.

This intent would seem to be so intrinsically a part of the practice of professional astrology that mentioning it at all might seem unnecessary to all but the most clueless of clients. While there are certainly varying levels of familiarity with astrology, and many alternate views about its true nature and its limitations, anyone who knows enough about astrology to have a copy of their birthchart would expect an astrologer to be able to “read” or “interpret” it. I would like to make the heretical suggestion in this blog series that this may not be the best use of a birthchart.

I formulate my views through 40+ years of interpreting birthcharts as a professional astrologer, and I continue on occasion to do this. But I have found over the years that it is far more useful to consider the birthchart to be a portal to ongoing self-reflection than it is to try to read it, or interpret, or translate it into English. For this reason, I have spent the last 20+ years focused on teaching astrology as an open-ended language of self-discovery, rather than a set of symbols to be decoded. In this blog series, I would like to outline what such an approach to astrology looks and feels like.

The Quest for Meaning

People come to astrologers for many reasons, but beneath whatever immediate catalyst propels a client to seek astrological guidance is almost always the desire to make sense of some life circumstance that is unfamiliar, troubling, unfathomable, and/or permeated by suffering. People do come to astrologers out of mere curiosity. But often there is a moment of crisis – a divorce, the loss of a job, a frightening medical diagnosis, a death of a loved one, or some other cataclysmic life event – or anxiety about some impending change that forces an issue to the forefront of awareness, and then to an astrological consultation.

Some clients want to know what will happen to them, and there are plenty of astrologers that are willing to cater to this desire, even though foretelling outcomes in any situation where free will in involved is a dubious proposition at best. But whether they believe their future can be predicted or not, most clients will also want to know that whatever it is they are currently struggling with is part of a larger unfolding of soul purpose, capable of providing a meaningful context for their suffering and/or confusion. It is this sense of meaning and purpose, I think, that is potentially an astrologer’s greatest gift to any client.

Becoming Worthy of Our Suffering

Describing his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp in World War II in his landmark book Man’s Search for Meaning (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1963), psychotherapist Viktor Frankl concludes that almost any painful circumstance can be borne with dignity and grace, if it has meaning. Frankl further asserts that meaning comes not from circumstance itself, but from our response to circumstance. We cannot always choose the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose how we respond to them (pp. 105-106).

"Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful."

Most of us do not have to endure anything as horrific as a Frankl’s concentration camp experience. But whatever the source and intensity of our suffering might be, we want to know that it is meaningful and purposeful. If Frankl is right – and after 40+ years of helping people find meaning and purpose in their suffering, I believe he is – then what most people really want to know is that they can respond to their suffering in a way that empowers them – that they can be worthy of their suffering. If as astrologers, we can lead our clients to this self-knowledge then we will be helping them to find meaning and purpose in their lives, and in their birthcharts.

The next post in this series is The Mutability of Fate.

To read more blog posts, go here.