by Robert Wilkinson
This article is a brief overview of how astrology works. 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.
Having investigated astrology for 42 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 all of the technical terminology and the obscure or intricate mumbo-jumbo in the way it’s presented to the public, 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. They involve the inner potential and how it unfolds in space and time across the 12 areas of human experience, and show us how various parts of our inner and outer worlds harmonize or are at cross-currents.
The planets are the inner "Lights," symbolizing various parts of our inner nature relative to our personal, social, and transpersonal existence. They show us our Illumination principle, our reflective principle, our coordinating principle, our aesthetic principle, our energetic principle, our expansive principle, our binding principle, and how the Spiritual world impacts our personality. Each of the planets has a health and unhealthy expression.
The signs are the flavor, or filter, through which the Lights (planets) that combine to make our personality express their qualities. Thus a Sun in Leo expresses light, power, and integrity (the Sun) in Leo ways and qualities. They are illuminated by Leo people and things, and illuminate others through Leo methods.
In a related example, Venus in Gemini “likes” Gemini people, places, and things. Venus in Capricorn likes and appreciates Capricorn people, places, and things. Jupiter in Aquarius finds expansion, truth, and higher understanding through Aquarius people, places, and things, while Jupiter in Cancer finds these Jupiter qualities in Cancer people, places, and things.
Like the planets, each sign has its own qualities for good or ill. That’s why two people with the same planet in the same sign can express the quality of that position in radically different ways. These “planet in a sign” qualities are these brought forth by the specific life affairs symbolized by the house that the planet occupies in a chart.
There are many different ways that the Sun, Moon, or a planet in a sign can express itself, and some are quite contradictory. In one obvious example, both Hitler and the Buddha had a Sun in Taurus. This is where the “nature vs nurture” argument can be seen in some amazing contrasts.
The houses in the birth chart show us the outer world of our affairs. They represent areas of external expression, whether subjective or objective, private or public, in the realm of self or the real of the not-self. They show us our “window on the world” and all it holds for us in the way of interactions within ourselves as well as others.
All the planets occupy a sign as well as a house. So the Sun, Moon, and planets can be in any of the signs, though some planets are never more than one to three signs away from each other. And they all occupy some house in the chart, determined by their sign position relative to the Ascendant (Rising sign, or the beginning of the first house. The Ascendant is determined by the time of day we’re born.)
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. The aspects show us what parts of our inner and outer lives are in harmony with each other, or frictional to each other, as well as a wide variety of other possible ways of interacting.
So we have a nature symbolized at birth by what signs and houses the various planets occupy. We see our predispositions, and how all the various predispositions in our nature interact across the personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal dimension of existence. As we grow the various planets “progress” through subsequent signs and houses, making different angles to other planets than they did at birth. And we are constantly acting or reacting to the external events of our lives, symbolized by transiting planets.
That being said, one question inevitably arises. How much power do we really have to change things? If our predispositions and the timing on our various life cycles is supposedly set at birth, can we really change our nature and the course of events to any substantial degree?
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 not act, and how to understand what’s happening so we can decide how to respond in some 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. 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.
© Copyright 2004, 2005, 2013 Robert Wilkinson