by Robert Wilkinson
This article is a brief overview of how astrology works. Though some of you may have read it before, it may yield new insights if you check it out again. I cover a little on planetary basics, how fate and free will intersect in the craft and our lives, and how the nature of our character plays an important role in what comes forth as a result of astrological factors. There is no doubt much more to be discussed about all of these things, and the nuances will be developed in future articles, but for now, enjoy!
Having investigated astrology for almost 35 years, I find that it is a system that functions remarkably well, given its inherent contradictions. Simply put, it works in some pretty specific and astoundingly accurate ways. Though there is a lot of superstition around it, as well as tremendous skepticism by those who usually have never studied it at all, what most call "Western Astrology" is a dynamic living system of symbolic mathematics showing us the natural cycles of life and events. Regardless of the mumbo-jumbo, astrology's foundations basically involve four essential factors. Once you understand how these factors figure into the whole picture, the rest is commentary based on speculation or observation.
The essential elements of Western Astrology involve the interrelationships between the planets, signs, houses, and aspects. These four basic building blocks are the symbols of everything ever written or said about the craft. The planets are the inner "Lights," symbolizing various parts of our inner nature relative to our personal, social, and transpersonal existence. The signs are the flavor, or filter, through which the components of personality express their qualities. The houses in the birth chart show us the outer world of our affairs. All the planets occupy a sign as well as a house.
Thus a Sun in Leo expresses light, power, and integrity (the Sun) in Leo ways and qualities, these brought forth by the specific life affairs symbolized by the house in which it falls. The fourth building block of astrology, the astrological aspects, or angular relationships between the planets, show the relative positioning of the various parts of our inner and outer life to each other, whether challenging or easy, specializing or crisis producing. To quote my old friend Robert Bly, "astrology shows us how we are fractured and how we are whole." This is an interesting way to describe it, and accurate. That being said, how much power do we really have to change things, if the timing on our various life cycles is supposedly set at birth?
As I have written elsewhere, astrological timing and tendencies does not take away our "free will." If anything, knowing astrology forces us to develop our "free will," since our "fate" or "destiny" is determined by how our character is shaped by choices at critical moments in our lives. Through astrology we can figure out when we will be challenged, whether to act or to understand, and decide how we are to respond to a certain area of our inner or outer life and affairs. Thus astrology helps us be forewarned and forearmed for the points of crucial decision where our choices determine our future possibilities.
It is reasonable to assume that we make and demonstrate our character through our choices. Some of these are more important than others, though all ultimately figure into the mix of our personality. In the cycles of our life, the beginnings, middles, and endings, that we come to understand something of our larger purpose that can lead us to ways of fulfillment.
Astrology does not "make anything happen," as only we make anything happen. As I wrote in "A New Look At Mercury Retrograde,"
Even if we use astrology, we still live our own lives and make our own choices. Invariably, we are either acting, not acting, or being acted upon. Planetary configurations are relevant to us in our chosen fields of activity, in our life energies, and the varying circumstances that influence us. An astrological configuration cannot make us act appropriately, or solve a problem in and of itself. Many configurations completely pass us by: the "good ones" do not magically bring expected "good," and the "bad ones" do not visit disaster upon us. Any configuration manifests only to the degree we are living life. (pg.8-9)
Astrology is not a substitute for living, making choices, and accepting consequences. It is useless to avoid life experiences by seeking refuge in any belief system. That said, to the extent that we are living our life rather than being a spectator or would-be "victim of circumstance," our charts will show us the points of challenge and decision in the various areas of life.
By knowing our personal cycles of change and transition, we can learn to greet the times of challenge rather than be blindsided, and if we're caught in a larger "storm" affecting everyone, by staying conscious of what's happening we are able not to lose our cool when everyone else is losing theirs. Sometimes just showing up and not making things worse is the best thing one can do. Other times we can take a quantum leap into new perspectives, new activities, and new relationships that work out more perfectly than we could have imagined. Do you really think that any of this could be random? Knowing astrology may not make some choices any easier, but it can help us understand what’s ending, as well as what’s beginning. And since there are so many branches of the craft to explore, it’ll never be boring! After all, it’s your life.
(Originally published 25 May 2004)