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Milky Way

The Mutability of Fate

May 2014

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Is Your Life “Written in the Stars?”

The path to an understanding of meaning and purpose – as it might be articulated from an astrological perspective – begins with a bit of education. Most people have the unspoken sense about their birthchart that it describes something that is “written in the stars.” Most astrologers would tend to agree. But how successful we are in helping our clients to find meaning and purpose in their suffering depends upon what we think – and what we communicate to them – is actually written.

In ancient Greece, where modern Western astrology has its roots, astrology was often associated with a mutable concept of fate. According to Ptolemy’s Algamest (quoted by Jim Tester, A History of Western Astrology, New York, NY: Ballentine Books, 1987, p. 70):

". . . we ought to listen to the astrologer when he says that to such and such a temperament, with such and such a particular condition of the heavens, such and such will happen, as a result. If what is going to happen to a man is not known, or if being known it does not receive treatment to inhibit it, it is bound to follow the sequence dictated by its original nature; whereas if it is foreknown and is provided with a remedy (the remedy being what it is because of natural laws and fate together) it either does not happen at all or is considerably modified."

In considering this quote, Tester concludes: “So our fate, foretold by the stars, which are part of the working of eternal law, is natural and mutable, and the foreknowledge provided by the astrologer helps us cope with it.”

Learning as a Remedy for Fate

This is not an unreasonable prescription for an astrological reading, and in one form or another, I think it fair to say, this is what most astrologers do when they read a birthchart. They help their clients cope with what seems fated, because in some sense, it is already happening. In addition, the astrologer’s foreknowledge of the inevitable movement of the planets through their orbits in relation to each other and to the natal birthchart serves as a timing device. It can be helpful to know that at such and such a period of life, this particular natal pattern will be triggered. If, in turn, something about this particular natal pattern can also be known, identified, and illuminated for the client by a skilled astrologer, foreknowledge of its triggering can indeed help the client cope.

Yet, it seems to me that something essential is missing from this picture. Must the client be provided with “a remedy” by an astrologer in order to mitigate his or her fate? Is not the client ultimately the source of his or her own remedy? Is the mutability of fate a matter of foreknowledge, or is it a matter of each client – and each soul, including the astrologer – learning from the patterns the natal chart suggests are there to be experienced? Is not the learning that takes place through these experiences what brings meaning and purpose to the suffering that is part of any life, and gradually makes one worthy of it? If so, then should not the job of the astrologer be to help their clients recognize what it is they are learning from the pattern, and what it is they have yet to learn?

If we answer yes to this last question, then it is plausible to suggest that merely interpreting a birthchart for a client is insufficient.

In the early days, I would spend hours preparing for a reading with a client only to find when they arrived that they were not who I had assumed them to be on the basis of their chart alone. Is this because astrology is a flawed language? No, I don’t think so. It is because it is impossible to interpret a birthchart for a client at all without knowing who the client is, and something about their life.

Steven Forrest once pointed out that a cockroach born under the manger at the exact time of Christ's birth would have exactly the same chart as Christ. Yet obviously the symbolism means something entirely different in each case. This begs the question, "What exactly are we doing when we interpret any birthchart?" Are we merely speculating about possibilities? Or are we trying to observe how the symbolism actually manifests in a given case, and then using our knowledge of astrological symbolism to place our observations into a larger context of meaning and purpose. If the latter - and I hope it is for all of us – then we must use our astrology in conjunction with the actual living history of the person (or event, animal, organization, etc.) we are reading for. 

The same astrological pattern means one thing when lived by someone bringing a certain level of consciousness to it; and quite another when lived by someone else bringing different life experiences, worldviews, and willingness to learn from experience. Most astrologers would probably agree that the best readings are actually dialogues with their clients in which the meaning of a birthchart emerges gradually. I would take this one step further and suggest that the meaning of a birthchart cannot emerge without the client’s participation in exploring it. It is, in fact, this exploration that brings meaning and purpose not just to the suffering inherent in any life, but to the practice of astrology as well.

The next post in this series is The Birthchart as a Template of Cycles.

To read more blog posts, go here.

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