The Importance of Reality in Learning Astrology

by Hank Friedman

1. Learning Astrology from Reality

While teachers and books are wonderful for learning astrology, in the end, reality is the final arbiter. By that I mean that the greatest resource for learning how astrology works, and what principles do and do not apply (and under what circumstances they do or don't apply), is the actual lives of people.

Mark McDonough using his AstroDatabank software, was chagrined to discover that single astrological factors statistically correlated with virtually nothing. He could not find any cases where a planet in a specific sign, house, aspect, dignity, etc. correlated with any of the other factors in his database.

This does not mean that astrology doesn't work, it means that astrology is more complicated than simple single factor analysis.

Most Western astrology books are, in fact, based upon combining principles, not examining actual astrological charts to see what they have in common. That's why I was so delighted to find Clara Darr's book "Transits" many years ago, which is based upon actual events in her clients' lives, not theories. (At the other extreme is Sakoian and Acker's "Astrologer's Handbook" which could easily have been written without ever seeing a client, as it is completely principle-based.)

Recently, Stephanie Camilleri wrote "The House Book" based upon her observations of clients' planetary house placements, again "breaking the mold" and using reality to dictate astrology, and not vice versa.

One of the conundrums faced by astrologers is that clients often want you to tell them everything, instead of sharing their lives with you first. As a result, we astrologers often don't hear enough about people's own experiences to build our own body of knowledge based upon the real events in people's lives.

2. Testing Astrological Principles in Real Life

Both Western and Vedic astrologies are full of principles delineating what indicates what. In some cases, these principles may actually conflict, and then using actual people's lives to resolve which perspective is accurate becomes very important.

For example, in Vedic astrology, there is the principle of karaka bhavo nashya, which states that if the significator of a person is in the house of that person, there are problems with that person or in that person's life.

Using this principle, one would expect challenges with one's younger sibling if Mars is in the 3rd house (or no sibling), with one's older sibling with Jupiter in the 11th house, with one's mother if the Moon is in the 4th house, one's children if Jupiter is in the 5th house, with one's spouse if Venus is in the 7th house, or with one's father if the Sun is in the 9th house.

For example, if Venus is in the 7th house, either the native doesn't get married, or the native's partner has serious problems (health, financial, emotional, conflicts with parents, any serious problem), or the relationship itself is tumultuous.

This is quite contrary to the Western astrological perspective, which expects marriage to go well if Venus is in the 7th, or there to be many happy children if Jupiter is in the 5th house. Much to my initial surprise, the Vedic principle does indeed apply more accurately than the Western view, when tested by looking at the charts of friends, family, and clients

This principle holds up surprisingly well, but there are several possible additional questions that arise to explore:

1. Is the principle still true if the planet concerned is in its own sign or exalted?

2. Is it still true if the planet is combust or debilitated?

3. Is it still true if there are other planets in or aspecting the relevant house?

4. What about the house lord, and its contacts? Does it change things?

At least to the third question, I can state that my research into the lives of people, suggests that the presence of other planets in or aspecting the house definitely modifies this principle.

It remains for me, and others, to explore the other questions I've posed, and to use reality as the final guide. Theoretical considerations may direct us towards points to test, but it is in the "playing field of life" that the answers, and confirmations, come.

In order to balance this presentation, I have also explored, as I have mentioned in previous articles, the effectiveness of using the predominance of a specific element (fire, water, air or earth) in predicting the temperament of a person.

Since Vedic astrological positions, which are constellationally based, differ from Western astrological positions, which are seasonally based, by 3/4 of a sign, it is commonplace to find a person predominately earthy using Western astrology, and predominately fiery using Vedic astrology. (Just to make the process completely clear, we are looking for more than 4 planets in a single element.)

In this case, Western elements clearly describe reality better than Vedic astrology. I, and many other astrologers, have confirmed this for years. But, and this is a very important but, it is in fact in Western astrology and not in Vedic astrology that this particular method of analysis is used. So Vedic astrology is not wrong, one should just not transplant Western methods to their Vedic practice.

3. How to Use Reality to Evaluate Principles

A. Create a collection of charts for people whose lives and personalities you really know. They can be family members, friends, famous people, clients, etc. But be sure to exclude those with uncertain birth times (including rounded off times like 12:00 or 12:30).

You can also get astrology software that includes a large collection of accurately-timed birth charts of famous people, whose biographies you can study. AstroDatabank, Kepler, and the add-on Famous Charts collection for Halloran's AstrolDeluxe are excellent choices, especially since all three programs also have powerful built-in research tools.

B. Use a research-oriented astrological program (see above) to search for the factor(s) you are testing, or create a notebook of several people's charts per page that you can quickly scan, or both.

C. Explore your collection in a variety of ways:

I. Test existing principles and delineations. Choose a specific principle or interpretation and see if it actually works in the lives of those you know.

Note: Be careful, if a delineation does not seem to work, not to discard it too quickly. It could mean that there are modifying factors that you are not paying attention to. Before rejecting an oft-used astrological principle, look to see if it works in some cases and not in others, and if so, try to ascertain what the differences are between when it works and when it doesn't work.

II. Implicitly discover commonalities. E.g. look at the charts of everyone with a planet in a particular position, and see if you can perceive commonalities in charts having this configuration, i.e. in their nature or in their life events.

It is instructive to look at major transits, or planetary periods including dasas and bhuktis -- that activate this position to see if similar things occur in people's lives.

III. Test your own theories. It can be very exciting to come up with a new idea, and then to test it using the charts of those who's lives you are most familiar with.

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