Exploring the Birthchart
As a Template for Lifelong Learning
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Constructing a Cyclical History
When I switched gears in my astrological career from doing readings for clients to teaching students how to explore their own birthcharts, the work largely revolved around a process that I call taking a cyclical history. A cyclical history tracks whichever astrological cycle or cycles are most relevant to whatever issue is presented by a client for exploration.
If, for example, I determine that a client suffering from jealousy, anger, betrayal and emotional vulnerability in the wake of her husband’s recent affair is related to a natal opposition between Venus in Aries and Neptune in Libra, I might track a number of relevant cycles: 1) transits of Neptune to natal Venus; 2) recent transits of Venus to natal Neptune; and 3) the movement of progressed Venus in relation to itself and Neptune to this point in the life. In the first two cycles, cardinal aspects – conjunctions, squares and oppositions – will likely be most relevant. In the third, any change as progressed Venus moves from one sign to another; one house to another; turns retrograde; or forms any aspect to natal Venus or natal Neptune will be noteworthy. I would generally allow a 1° orb for each astrological “event.”
By listening to the client’s story in relation to these “events,” I would then begin to piece together a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the pattern we are exploring. Tracing the pattern back far enough – in this case, perhaps especially through Cycle 1, I might get a sense of its origin in childhood. I would also get a sense, considering the story as a whole, of how the client has dealt with the suffering associated with the pattern; what, if anything they are learning; and where they might go from here.
All of this taken together gives a sense of meaning. A cyclical history tells the story of a pattern and its attendant issues that has likely been unfolding over the course of a lifetime. It also reveals a process of gradual growth and learning that brings the client to this critical juncture, at which she has the opportunity to apply what she has learned to the same pattern in a more conscious and intentional way.
This type of analysis – which comes through a dialogue with the client, exploring relevant periods of their actual life experience, and together looking to identify themes and patterns unfolding – is far more useful than a standard “reading” in which the astrologer merely provides foreknowledge that might serve as a “remedy” for suffering.
I call this quest for meaning, using the birthchart as a template for exploring a life in cyclical time astrological recapitulation. Recapitulation is a Toltec shamanic practice of remembering our past, but it is not remembering in the ordinary sense. For beneath the outer events of our daily existence is the internal movement of the soul, on a journey toward healing and wholeness. Beyond the identification of patterns and themes, and even beyond recognizing how a client is working with patterns and themes, in the most meaningful astrological work – or in the most meaningful therapeutic work of any kind – we are seeking to recognize and more intentionally honor the movement of our souls through our life experience.
This movement of the soul registers on more subtle levels than are usually catalogued by someone paying attention to outer events. We experience it as at times as strong emotion, and at other times as an intuitive sense that something is important, but it goes deeper than that.
Within the Toltec tradition, recapitulation involves accessing what Carlos Castaneda refers to as our Second Attention. First Attention is that which we normally apply to our experience. Second Attention is rooted in a state of non-ordinary reality, where everything we appear to experience is merely the gateway through which being is transformed. It is our experiences of movement through this gateway that we are trying to remember.
The most meaningful experiences in our lives will be those in which we move through such a gateway, and something changes. We are different because of these experiences, and their aftermath. These experiences – more than any interpretation we might impose on their astrological signature in a birthchart – are what bring the meaning of the birthchart into focus.
We don’t remember these experiences in the ordinary way because they are not linear, and they do not contribute to the continuity of what we think of as our identity. In fact, quite the opposite is true. In moments of Second Attention, the cracks in identity are exploited to reveal something more luminous, and more fluid beneath outer appearances. In such moments, identity is revealed to be but a temporary container for something far more durable that cannot be contained. It is this durable essence, continuously reverberating in Second Attention beneath the fog of our experience in First Attention, that we are trying to remember in our recapitulation practice.
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