The Heart of the Sky

Implicit within astrology are a set of teachings, archetypes, and perspectives that may be considered a path to wisdom or to Light. Not only can astrology be used to delineate personal life patterns, couples compatibilities, and mundane events it can be learnt as a Way, a means to self-realization. This is the intention of this article to reveal the core, the heart, the depth of what the Stars have to say... to all of us.

Perhaps the best way to start is to introduce some of the basic, most easily understood teachings of astrology. One of the most fundamental cornerstones are the four elements. When I first read, in a grammar school history lesson, that the ancient Greeks fought over which of the four elements was the best, I thought, "Oh those silly Greeks..." just as I was expected to (by the author of the text).

Upon closer inspection, the issue the Greeks fought over is no different than whether Republicans are better than Democrats, Jews than Christians, Whites vs. Blacks, or Men vs. Women. In all of these cases, the teaching is the same: people are different from each other but equally important to the whole. What astrology can teach us is that the nature of the difference is like the colors of the rainbow. In other words, without a specific color, you wouldn't have a complete spectrum. And without even one of the four elements, the World as we know it would literally fall apart.

When I first started studying astrology, I was a middle-class college graduate longhair, with a perspective quite jaundiced by the cultural biases of the '60s. I thought that all "straight" people were the problem (bankers, materialists, the military), and all hippies the solution. Believe it or not, the study of astrology confronted me with a simple, yet telling, truth. That the qualities that I considered "square" were in fact those of the Earth signs, and without this element, no one would be on time, structure and rules would vanish, work would never be taken seriously, and there would be no container for feelings, impulses, or ideas. In other words, it would be like the loss of all of the bones in the body, life would be a formless puddle (and muddle!).

Astrology taught me its first lesson: to see the wisdom and value in each of the personality styles or temperamental differences. And eventually to see beyond the differences completely, to see each person, even each culture, like a painting or work of art, with its own unique voice, understanding, perspective, and contribution to life. Ironically, if the people of the world could embrace this one teaching, all wars would end immediately and forever.

(One of the main criticisms feminists have with non-violent pornography is that it inclines men to view women as objects. Women want to, and have every right to, be seen as whole beings and be loved for all of who they are, not judged on whether or not they conform to a particular -- culturally esteemed -- shape. Similarly, all people need to be seen and respected, no matter what form, color, or beliefs.)

However, astrology also taught me why this is unlikely to occur. Inherent in the differences between the four elements is an instinctive tendency towards conflict that must be outgrown through the maturation process (whether it's the growing up of a person, or a culture). Peace is not impossible, but it requires a greater appreciation for contrast than has been achieved by most people or most societies. Yet the oft-maligned science of astrology has contained the answer all along. No wonder astrologers were actually crucified for practicing their art in the middle ages, and rejected completely by closed-minded religions.

Like other organizations that want to grow in a competitive environment, organized religions often thrive by turning their members (and potential members) against all other groups. Not only does it greatly appeal to a people's egos to tell them, "only you and those in your group will go to Heaven." -- hogwash repeated even today by most ossified sects, but it also fosters the primitive urge towards xenophobia (where everyone not of my tribe is the enemy). Why else would the Pope list astrology as a greater sin than most crimes, and see meditation as evil? Because any path, like astrology, that tells people "We are all one" is the enemy of chauvinistic beliefs.

Scientists, on the other hand, reject astrology because it threatens the materialistic and reductionistic bent of modern science. How can you research a field based on events that are not reproducible, much less a field that is as much a language, a psychology, a set of archetypes, and an art, as it is a science? You can't, so you better reject it. Scientists can no more study astrology and fully appreciate its gifts than they can study the effect a rose has on an individual. In the former as in the latter, the results will be both disappointing and meaningless. The rose has its beauty, scent, shape and color, and to dissect or research its impact is simply foolish.1

Similarly with astrology, to apply the method of science, to select one piece of a phenomena and study it in isolation, is ludicrous. If nothing else, astrology teaches us that everything interacts with everything else, and that simply looking at one piece (of a rose, a person, a chart) destroys its beauty, its meaning, and its wholeness.

The "path" of astrology, in the end, is a path of humanity. Astrology teaches us to realize that all things must pass, that life is ever in motion, that our path of growth is not linear but cyclical, that change is the order of the day, not permanency; that no matter how old you are complete shifts in awareness, success, and activities are likely, instead of impossible; and that the final road, if there is one, is towards our Self.

The Perfect Beginning

We begin our lives on Earth with a single inspiration2. Once we take in our first air, we are here for the whole journey. Astrologically, we look at what section of sky (=sign) is emerging on the Eastern horizon at this moment of time as the clarion call of our identity. This "rising sign" or ascendant becomes the keeper of the gate, the border guard between us and the world.

The gate-keeper has been sometimes called the persona in psychology, and represents the mask we both show others and often believe in (about) ourselves. In fact, it is the aspect of our self that we are most in danger of becoming lost in, i.e. of believing too deeply that that is who we are. When two borderline psychotic clients were referred to me by a fellow psychologist, what distinguished them from other astrology clients of mine was their inability to identify with more than one small aspect of themselves. They'd lost sight of their whole range of beingness, and lost much freedom of choice as a result.

The master of the option, the Sufis say, is the person who has the most choices in any situation. As we self-actuate, we make peace with our contradictory natures, and no longer get lost in any part of ourselves. As a result, we become able to move freely between our parts, or even act as a Whole much greater than the parts.

And yet, even in the advanced soul, the gate keeper is often visible as a thin veneer over the surface of the Soul. And along the way, our dances with the "surface tension" between us and the world, i.e. expressing our selves and receiving what's outside of us, are potent and enriching journeys.

Astrology teaches us that we begin life oriented to the world in a certain way. We are not free to express ourselves however we want. If we have a fire sign rising, and the gatekeeper's actions are not significantly modified by planets near the same degree (of any sign) or in the first house, then we cannot help but intrude upon the world, especially if we are enculturated males. Unbridled fire signs literally send their energies out into the world, and demand attention, an audience, and often a following.

How different life is for those born with Earth rising. From the get-go they are conscious, perhaps unduly so, of the standards by which they are being measured. While their individual response to these external strictures may range from successful and ambitious conformity to self-repression and depression, nevertheless their root awareness of the rules and demands of others is all-too-present.

Water rising people can often be lost in the bath of their own emotions, and until achieving serenity become blinded by (and biased in their perceptions by) their inner feelings. Again, the rest of the inner parts (=planets) may either reinforce this issue or add necessary balance. In any case, the goal for Water rising is clear, to learn to "walk on water" which means, as it meant in the first place, to master one's emotional nature.

Air rising provides a fluid, if separate, connectedness with one's social life. Like a creature of the air, the person born with this rising may relate, and then flit away, or keep their distance (or overview) all along. Their lesson is the opposite to that of Water, to contact and stay in contact with what stirs beneath the surface of their beingness, instead of skimming and living without depth.

Yet this discussion of the rising sign is but a beginning, since one cannot understand the whole person through only one part, especially their mask.


1. As a former science "whiz-kid" and graduate researcher in neurochemistry, I have tremendous respect for scientific research and the advances that science has brought to us. It is scientism that I criticize, not science, i.e. the narrow and prejudiced beliefs that only some scientists hold. Almost every scientist who has ridiculed astrology has never researched, and has no understanding of, astrology at all; and as such should have their "licence as a scientist" revoked.

2. It's amazing that the first breath, and all inhalations, are also called inspirations. Astrologers are often asked why the chart is calculated for the moment of birth, instead of conception. The answer is that the body's "clock" starts at the first breath, when all of the biochemical processes switch from anaerobic to aerobic, blood circulation permanently alters its course, and the soul becomes fully embodied.

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