Speaking the Poetic Language of the Soul
originally published in The Mountain Astrologer, June, 1994
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In mastering any body of knowledge, it is natural to gravitate toward what has been written about the subject by those who have gone before. Then, as proficiency is gained, it is natural to keep reading in order to stay current in one's chosen field. Astrologers are no exception to this rule. Regardless of our level of experience, we look to each other for the best expression of our art in written form.
Yet, because astrology is essentially an intuitive art, that is to say, an avenue of approach to the deepest levels of the psyche, we are faced with a dilemma not common to other professional disciplines. The dilemma is this: astrology's deepest secrets cannot be written down.
At best, reading what has been previously written will yield a superficial understanding of our craft. At worst, it will lead us to radically misconstrue the nature of what it is we are doing. Although there are a number of good astrologers out there, some of whom write quite well, getting to the core of what astrology has to teach cannot be done by reading books, nor even by exploring the symbolism of astrology with the conscious mind. Intellectual study will not teach us how to think or feel astrologically, nor how to tap our own innate wisdom, nor how to reach a deeper level of meaning than the conscious mind can reveal. Yet this is exactly what we must do if we are to access astrology's most profound potential.
Typically, as students of astrology, we begin our study by learning a set of correlations for each astrological factor. Mars in Capricorn means the capacity for authoritative, decisive action. Venus in Pisces means a tendency toward self-indulgent reverie. And so on. Cookbooks are devoured. Lists of keywords are memorized. Our own chart and the charts of our loved ones are correlated with logical descriptions that seem to fit. And then all of a sudden, astrology begins to make sense, or so we think. Bleary-eyed and top-heavy with information, we stagger out into the real world to do our first professional reading, only to find that reading for a stranger, without the aid of a cookbook at our elbow, is not that easy. Confusion sets in, then panic.
Had we been told that real life is a mystery, and astrology merely a set of glasses to facilitate entry into the realm of awe, we might have been better prepared. As it was, we were told that life is an open book, and that equipped with the language of astrology, we could read it. At this moment of rude awakening, we must ask ourselves: "Am I going to run back to my books, or am I willing to stand trembling on the threshold of the unknown with an open mind and heart, listen to my client, and let the symbols speak to me directly?"
It is at this juncture that we decide if we are going to be astrologers, or merely speak astrologese. There are a great many good people out there, professional astrologers among them, who have read all the right books, and compiled the most comprehensive lists of keywords available. They can now speak the language, and they can translate your chart into astrologese. In many towns across the land, astrologese has become a second language. But how many astrologers are there willing to stand with you, on the edge of the unknown, and invoke the mysteries inherent in the symbols of your birthchart? How many astrologers can help you bring those symbols alive without giving them absolute, but ultimately limiting definitions?
The great psychologist, Carl Jung, once said that a symbol is like an iceberg. Only a small portion of the symbol is visible; the bulk of it is inherently rooted in the unconscious. If Jung was right, then as a symbolic language, astrology can only be approached in a limited way by the conscious mind. To the extent that we restrict ourselves to a set of correspondences and correlations, however extensive that list might be, we gaze only at the tip of the astrological iceberg, and miss 90% of the message. However filled with clever information our readings might be, they must remain as fast food for the soul, until we have the courage to face the unconscious patterns that lie buried beneath the obvious interpretation. If all astrology can do is echo what the conscious mind already knows, why bother to study it?
The quest for meaning, for a sense of vision, for an attunement to the ultimately unfathomable mystery of life, cannot be undertaken with a head full of conscious information, astrological or otherwise. It cannot happen in a mind that thinks it knows. It cannot begin with preconceived ideas. If our astrological insights are to be worth anything at all, they cannot be built upon a cookbook mentality. After all, cookbook definitions can be fed into a computer and spit back out again, but anyone who has ever had a computer-generated reading knows, you cannot squeeze meaning out of a machine. Nor can you squeeze meaning out of a mind that is full, and self-satisfied with its conscious knowledge.
There is, of course, great pressure within the astrological community itself these days, to produce works of scholarly merit, for credibility in the eyes of the world is something that we all struggle with. To make a mark upon the astrological scene, it seems to be de rigueur to produce a book that explores some little understood facet of the astrological language, and then provides an obligatory cookbook section delineating the appropriate interpretations. While it may require some leap of intuitive creativity to write these interpretations, their mere presence in print, I believe, does a disservice to those who will read them.
This is so because what exists in print tends to carry the weight of authority, and any symbol whose meaning has been rendered authoritatively loses its symbolic potency. Jung's thesis is that the power of a given symbol to facilitate change dwells within its unconscious, archetypal component. If this is so, then when that component has been overwritten by the mantle of conscious authority, the symbol is rendered useless for purposes of inner work. The illusion is created that the symbol in question means what has been written about it, the conscious mind has been satisfied and is back in control, and there is now less incentive to explore the remaining 90% of that symbol's meaning. What was once a symbol becomes a mere sign, a shorthand notation for its correlate definitions. Can it be any wonder that when astrology is treated this superficially by its own practitioners, it must be perceived as meaningless drivel by its detractors?
Some astrologers attempt to skirt this issue of superficiality by resorting to new, ever more exotic techniques, or by adding new astrological factors to their repertoire. While a study of Uranian planets, asteroids, harmonics, midpoints, Arabian parts, Sabian symbols, composites, and tertiary progressions might possibly help to precipitate fresh insight, it might just as easily be used to fortify the self-satisfied conscious mind in its stranglehold upon the psyche. Not that all of these techniques cannot be valuable used judiciously in certain situations. But if new techniques only speak to us because of their newness, without ever leading us into new, previously unexplored territory, what good are they? If the use of these tools does not sharpen the intuition, and allow more of the astrological iceberg to reveal itself, then how can they take us any closer to genuine wisdom? If the same understanding can be had by probing more deeply into basic symbols, are we not just finding ever more clever ways to fill our minds with clutter, or to flaunt our elitism?
In truth, astrology practiced in this way has no more value than any psychological test. To the extent that astrology is based upon a set of pre-cataloged interpretations, however extensive or complicated those interpretations might be, the readings that we do will only help catalog our clients according to our preconceived ideas. They will do nothing to invoke the unfathomable mystery that lies at the heart of each client's unique evolutionary process. And if we cannot invoke that mystery, even in the face of the most earthbound crisis, then what is it that we are offering that can't be found elsewhere in the healing professions?
Beyond the symbolic map in our hands is a soul seeking full incarnation. The essence of this soul cannot be rendered into astrologese, nor into pre-catalogued interpretations that existed before our client walked through the door. In order to facilitate the evolution of a soul, we must be willing to listen to our clients tell their stories, and then hear the soul revealing itself in its own terms through the symbolism of the chart. Finally, we must be able to mirror the beauty and the magic of the soul's revelation back to our clients through the spoken word.
The challenge of the astrologer, as I see it, is not much different than the challenge of the poet. Both must be deep appreciators of the mystery being revealed. Both must attempt to bring the ineffable into the realm of language. Both must open the mind to larger questions. Neither can afford to indulge the naiveté of definitive answers.
Some say that unless astrology can prove itself on scientific grounds, it does not stand a chance of acceptance as a legitimate discipline. Others say that unless astrology can define itself in terms of applied psychology, it will not be taken seriously. Still others say that astrology's value lie in its predictive capabilities. I say that astrology's unique gift to this left-brained culture in which we struggle to justify ourselves, is its ability to bring the gift of poetry into lives that have been hardened by the demand for definitive answers.
Our cultural mindset is geared toward definitive answers, because definitive answers facilitate control, and where there is control, business as usual can proceed unchallenged. If astrologers do not question the basic assumptions of the scientific and psychological establishments that are harnessed to justify business as usual, who will? If we do not help our clients to understand themselves in terms that transcend existing categories and definitions, who will champion the uniqueness of the individual against the drone of deadness and conformity? If we do not speak poetry to them, who will save them from identifying only with the prosaic definitions offered by an increasingly soulless society?
If instead, we merely seek acceptance into the established order, we may one day be able to feed at the trough of the insurance industry, along with everybody else, but we ourselves will become like symbols that have lost their potency. We will become known quantities jockeying for position within a sea of known quantities. Who then will ask the deeper questions that acknowledge the sacred nature of the unknown? Like poetry, astrology must forever remain open to the mystery that cannot be defined, if it is to maintain its transformative edge. Otherwise, it will merely become another form of prose - pedestrian, predictable, perhaps profitable, but in the end, fueled by the same manipulative agenda that plagues the rest of this pre-packaged culture we live in.
So what does it mean to practice astrology as poetry? It means having the integrity to admit that the inscrutable essence of life can never be fully captured by any system, astrology included. It means observing our own lives in relation to astrological cycles, and deeply feeling what the symbolism means to us. It means approaching each birthchart with the humility of beginners mind, regardless of our astrological expertise. It means having the courage to put our cookbooks away, and to use the known as a springboard for the intuition. It means listening to the real life stories of our clients and then letting the symbols in their charts speak to us anew. It means trusting in our own wisdom, and allowing that wisdom to flow through us as we read for each client that comes to us. It means helping our clients to see the unique beauty that they bring to the world, and encouraging them to nurture that beauty, despite the lack of support they might get from our culture. It means creating a space for the mystery, the unfathomable, the ineffable to reveal itself.
Ultimately the practice of astrology is not about collecting knowledge, but about thinking and feeling from a place of wisdom. Astrology is a living, breathing, evolving art, a way of life, a lens through which meaning can be intuited and extracted from the most inscrutable of circumstances. It requires an attentiveness in the here and now, and a willingness to trust the unexpected revelation when there is no external authority to back it up, no book that will confirm our intuitions. It is not so much about learning a bunch of rules, or memorizing a bunch of keywords, or mastering a bunch of techniques, as it is about learning to listen and observe, to feel and intuit, to discover and then to live our own highest truth, using the potency of astrological symbols as our gateway. If we can do this for ourselves, we will have something of value to offer our clients.
It requires great courage to stand on the edge of the unknown. It is so much easier to cling to the cookbooks, and the written word. To move beyond the mesmerizing buzz of clever, pre-packaged interpretations, and to cross the terrifying, intensely lonely threshold of the unspeakable mystery is to take the first step on the road to astrological wisdom. Each of us must do this for ourselves, and each of us must do this alone. When we all mature enough to take this step, the practice of astrology will mature with us, and command the credibility and the respect it deserves as the poetic language of the soul that it is meant to be.
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