Traditional vs. “Modern” Astrology

astrologyThis article was originally posted in July of 2007.

Somewhere along the line astrologers split into two camps as some moved forward into humanistic or psychological astrology (leading into evolutionary and transformational astrology) and some moved backwards towards traditional or medieval astrology. Rob Hand was one of my favorite authors, and his book Planets in Transit is still one of the very best resources available on that subject. In 1992, just as Uranus and Neptune conjoined in Capricorn where the flood of new ideas (Uranus) confused and befuddled (Neptune) established conventions (Capricorn), Rob began a study and collection of ancient astrological texts called Project Hindsight. I’ll come back to Rob Hand in a moment.

Modern astrology has its roots in the work of Dane Rudhyar, who pioneered the concept of self-actualization through the astrological system in what he called “humanistic astrology” which was more psychological in nature than the predictive astrological system of the past that was more event-oriented than person-centered. Although Rudhyar had studied and written about astrology since the 1920s, it wasn’t until the Uranus/Pluto conjunction of the 1960s that he revolutionized the astrological world with his book The Astrology of Personality. Rudhyar had been influenced in the 1930s by the archetypal studies of Carl Jung and depth psychology, and he utilized these ideas in his revolutionary approach to the new astrology.

Chiron’s discovery in the late 1970s brought with it the ancient idea that the key to healing is found within the wound, accelerating the movement towards an astrological system that
provided healing of psychological wounds. The outer planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) became known as the “transpersonal” planets which accelerated that personal growth and healing from outside of the individual, and the inner planets were revealed as functions of the inner world of the person.

Predictably, after the “New Age” explosion of the Uranus/Neptune conjunction there was a backlash in the astrological world against modern astrology which, rejecting the classic attributes of certain planets as “bad” or “good” and instead as tools for change, they considered “mushy” and unscientific. As most conservatives do, traditional astrologers find comfort in the past and are reluctant to move forward into the unknown, which they find frightening and without regulation. A recent interview with Ben Dykes on the fabulous Skyscript site reveals a basic lack of understanding of “modern” astrology that is found in non-astrologer skeptics:

First of all, I believe much modern astrology is plagued by a lack of clear instruction, inconsistent and unclear delineation techniques, and rather poor predictive techniques. Now, the idea that there is something lacking technically in modern astrology, might seem strange. There are so many books, so many authors, so many different ways to do astrology! But what I found was that much of it is treated either anecdotally, or subjectively, or without the sense that one can know whether one understands what is being taught. I felt as though I ought to have some vivid personal “feeling” about, say, what Virgo was. Since I didn’t have this feeling, I thought maybe I was hopelessly doomed to fail at astrology. [While it’s true that there are many different approaches to modern astrology, there certainly is a basic understanding of the twelve zodiac signs.]

Consider that there are many psychological or pseudopsychological approaches to astrology – but what if one is not a Jungian (or Freudian, or whatever)? Or there are scads of asteroids and other new bodies – what justification is there for using them in the ways they are, not to mention as substitutes for the traditional planets? For instance, why should Pluto now cause difficulties with power and violence, but not Saturn? Nowadays Saturn has been demoted to being the planet that kindly points out our limitations. [This is incorrect – Saturn is known as the “Celestial Taskmaster” who is often far less than kind.] Or one is supposed to use mental associations of symbols in order to delineate – but how do I really know whether this native’s Moon has anything to do with blood, water, vaginas, caves, witchcraft, and all the other possible associations one can make (I’m thinking of Liz Greene here)? [It’s hard to believe that Mr. Dykes has read Ms. Greene’s work, in which I have never seen vaginas or witchcraft mentioned although she may have thrown in a cave or two.] Again, plenty of modern astrologers insist they have their own personal ways of doing things – but why should the stars obey us, rather than the other way around? [Again, this shows a complete lack of understanding of the way modern astrology has evolved. Astrologers have not commanded the “new” outer planets; their influence has been clearly noted through painstaking research and observation.] Finally, there is so much emphasis on a native’s character, that astrology seemed plagued with self-absorption. [This is the same argument that has been made about all of the “self-help” processes since the birth of psychology in the 1930s, along with the discovery of Pluto.] This is especially true in people’s dependence on the trans-Saturnian planets to explain, and find pleasure in, their own problems. [ Explaining the problems is only the first part – the second step is in using this knowledge to help the individual work through those problems and heal dysfunction.]

Rob Hand has a better understanding of modern astrology, which he practiced before rediscovering and falling in love with the ancient texts. Rob says:

The single most important advance in 20th century astrology was the recognition that astrology actually could be used as a tool for human potential and self-actualization. There may be some of this in Jyotish, but there certainly is not any of it in Hellenistic, Arabic or Latin medieval. All three of those traditions were completely oriented towards dealing with everyday, mundane situations. But Dane Rudhyar in particular introduced a radically new way of thinking about astrology. Closely related to his astrology is the idea of psychological astrology. I do not share the contempt that many traditionalists feel for psychological astrology. I think it is extraordinarily important. My only criticism of it is that in the hands of some of it’s less competent practitioners it has been an extremely mushy sort of astrology where anything can be made to mean anything, depending on the emotional frame of mind of the client and the astrologer. The language of 20th century astrology as a language tends to be imprecise, vague, inarticulate and unclear. But the goals of 20th century astrology are absolutely commendable. …

As with everything else, balance is the key. Many traditionalists are disturbed at the lack of educational foundation of modern astrologers, as they should be. Before we can step into the future we must understand the past. But remaining rooted in the past because we fear the unknown is short-sighted in the extreme. There is no doubt that human understanding and knowledge is growing by leaps and bounds in all areas of life, including a scientific understanding of the workings of the universe. Why should astrology, the study of the planets, not keep pace with this?

Chiron and Neptune turn retrograde

Neptune retrogrades around midnight tonight EDT, and Chiron follows on Friday.  These two planets have been linked since last summer although their tightest connection occurred this week.  (You can find other articles on the Chiron/Neptune conjunction here.)

The outer planets are considered the “transformational” planets because they create big change at the foundational level.  They also retrograde once a year, so it is not an unusual event to have Chiron and Neptune turning retrograde.  What makes this event more significant is that Chiron and Neptune are turning retrograde just at the point where they are as close to a conjunction (14 minutes apart) as they will be until they unite next February, and they are both changing direction on the same day.

When planets turn retrograde (meaning they appear to move backward from our perspective on Earth) their apparent motion slows down to a crawl in preparation for their retrograde turn and it is at these times, along with the slowdown before they change direction to move forward again, that their influence is at its most powerful.

When transiting planets are retrograde they urge us to look back and experience the matters of that planet on a more internal level.  The externalized experiences of our life become less important than the inner ones, so with Neptune retrograde we are drawn more into a personal relationship with spirituality and a practice that connects us more soulfully into our lives.  When Chiron is retrograde we have greater access to our inner emotional experiences.  Chiron encourages us to feel, feel, feel – and often forces the issue by pulling our blinders off where necessary to confront something painful within us.  With Chiron retrograde this experience becomes more personal and more internalized.

Any time Neptune is involved things can get confusing; Neptune is the planet of illusion and confusion as well as spiritual yearning.  It’s hard to define situations when Neptune is at work, and this is true as Chiron and Neptune continue to dance together over the next couple of months.  On a personal level this seems to be manifesting for some people as a call to the soul – a yearning to break free of old ways of living that are not authentic for the person we have become.  For some there has been the eruption of old painful experiences that need to be healed, such as the scandalin Ireland over the abuse of the reform school children.

As these two planets retrograde their influence will gradually wane as they move farther and farther apart but Chiron, Neptune and Jupiter will continue to be tightly conjunct until the beginning of August.  This is a fabulous planetary event for anyone on a spiritual path or a path of self-knowledge, because these planets work on a soul level to connect us deeply to the Divine Self within as well as outside of ourselves.

Sure, it’s not easy, but what worthwhile thing is?!

Jupiter’s light will illuminate Neptune in the conjunction!


Normally to find Neptune you would need to have access to a very dark, clear sky and very carefully examine a sky chart or star atlas; an attempt to locate Neptune can then be made using a small telescope or good binoculars.

But this week, using good binoculars or a small telescope, you’ll have a great opportunity to easily locate Neptune using another planet: brilliant Jupiter, which will engage Neptune in the first three close conjunctions, an unusual “triple conjunction” between these two gas giants.

Jupiter can be found glaring low above east-southeast horizon at around 2 a.m. local daylight time, the brightest “star,” in the sky at that hour; a nighttime object that certainly attracts attention even from within brightly-lit cities and invites inspection the moment you set up a telescope.

Better to wait, however, until a couple hours later for it to gain some altitude above the horizon haze.

Jupiter has the largest apparent disk of any bright object in the sky after the Moon and the sun.  Its dark belts and bright zones with their subtle markings resolves into a series of red, yellow, tan and brown shadings in most telescopes and of course its four large and bright moons can be followed for hours, even in steadily held binoculars.  Through a telescope you can watch as they speed in front of Jupiter, throwing their shadows on the planet, or vanish behind its disk or suddenly becoming eclipsed by its shadow.

In contrast to Jupiter, trying to resolve Neptune into a disk will be much more difficult. You’re going to need at least a four-inch telescope with a magnification of no less than 200-power, just to turn Neptune into a tiny blue dot of light.

How exciting!  Hopefully the clouds here at my house will lift by then.

Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia SotomayorPresident Barack Obama just announced his pick for David Souter’s seat on the US Supreme Court:  Sonia Sotomayor.  Ms. Sotomayor would not only add another female voice to the Court, but she  would also be the first Hispanic to serve on the highest court of the land.

Originally appointed by President HW Bush, Ms.Sotomayor enjoys wide support on both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle and was praised today by the President as someone with “a common touch and a sense of compasion.” A graduate of Princeton University and Yale University Law school, she grew up in the housing projects of the Bronx, New York, and is a second-generation woman of Puerto Rican heritage.

So who is Ms.Sotomayor?  Her astrological chart (born 6/25/1954, time unknown, Bronx NY) shows that she was born under the sign of Cancer which bestows a fierce love for family and a sense of pride for one’s ancestral roots.  Her Sun is in an extremely beneficial conjunction to Jupiter, the planet of expansion, optimism and abundance which is usually a signal of confidence and the success that results from a positive attitude.  Jupiter is also the planet that rules the law through an interest in shared thoughts and ideas, and clearly Ms. Sotomayor is well suited for the field of law.

This Sun/Jupiter conjunction is opposed by the planet Mars,a planetary combination which bestows a forceful personality that can be somewhat combative.  Ms. Sotomayor is obviously a hard worker with Mars (drive) in the responsible and success-oriented sign of Capricorn.  Her Mars forms a harmonious sextile to Saturn, ruler of Capricorn, which enhances her love of discipline and her ability to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Although Ms.Sotomayor’s Mercury (thoughts and the mental process) is in Cancer, which tends to signify an emotional thinker, her chart also contains a tight conjunction of Mercury to Uranus (innovation and change).  This shows that she is not afraid to embrace new ideas and explore new ways to solve old problems although the nurturing quality of the sign of Cancer will filter through every one of her decisions.  Mercury in her chart is retrograde, meaning it appeared to be moving backwards at the time that she was born.  In a natal chart that can signify someone who is less adept in the world of communication, and there is some criticism about Ms.Sotomayor’s ability to be able to clearly articulate legal details.

With four planets plus the South Node of the moon falling in the sign of Cancer, this is the strongest dynamic in her chart. Cancer people are sensitive and can be shy, but they will also fiercely protect their own – this includes not only their own people, but also their own ideas.  Anyone who underestimates the strength of the Cancer individual does so at their peril, because the tenacity of their claws can be astounding.

Ms. Sotomayor is going through a powerful transit of Pluto right now that is setting off the Mars/Sun opposition in her chart.  Transits of Pluto usually take us through cycles of tremendous change and transformation, and in this Pluto cycle began affecting her back in February of this year.  At the time that the announcement occurred Pluto was nearly exactly conjunct Mars in her chart.

From a broader viewpoint, the appointment of an Hispanic female to the Supreme Court marks a turning point for the identity of the nation as a whole.  Pluto (transformation) in Ms.Sotomayor’s chart exactly conjuncts Chiron (wounding and healing) in the US chart, signifying that she will be an instrument for healing the adjustment problems that have resulted from a changing population and resulting identity crisis in the United States.

The 27 Club and the Progressed Lunar Return

Progressed lunar returnI found this article in a link from Astrococktail about the frequency of musicians who have been found dead at age 27.  Most of us know about the potentially problematic experiences of the Saturn Return at age 28, but this was a connection I had not thought much about.

Before each Saturn Return we all experience something called the Progressed Lunar Return which occurs when the Progressed Moon returns to its place in the natal chart.  (The progressed chart marks the passage of time and the evolution of the natal chart as we age and evolve.)  The Progressed Moon takes 27-28 years to complete the cycle around the natal chart, and it generally marks an opening of the emotional body that can be exhilarating or painful, depending on the chart and the way the individual handles challenges.  The Progressed Lunar Return prepares us for the Saturn Return the following year.

Here are just a few examples of the musicians in the 27 Club:

Brian Jones (2/28/42, time unknown), original member of the Rolling Stones, died July 3, 1969 by drowning.  His natal Moon was extremely stressed by a conjunction of Saturn and Chiron, and at the time of his death transiting Saturn was exactly square to that difficult triple conjunction that included his natal Moon.

Jimi Hendrix died about six months after his Progressed Lunar Return, with transiting Saturn was crossing the IC of his chart (the cusp of the Fourth House which in some systems is connected to death).  The Moon in Hendrix’s chart was not particularly stressed, conjuncting Jupiter which typically confers a positive and confident attitude, but that Moon/Jupiter conjunction made an exact square to the Midheaven of his chart and it is likely that his career (Midheaven) pulled him away from a satisfying emotional life (Moon/Jupiter in Cancer).  The Progressed Lunar Return would have brought this dissatisfaction to a head and the transit of Saturn would have forced matters to a crisis point.

Janis Joplin died five months after her Progressed Lunar Return.  The sensitivity of her Cancer Moon was squared by Neptune which can show emotional imbalance as well as a heightened creative power.  During the months prior to her death, transiting Chiron and Uranus were opposed in the sky, and both planets were exactly square to Janis’s Moon at the time that her Progressed Lunar Return was opening her emotional body and creating even more vulnerability.

Both Joplin and Hendrix had an exact conjunction of Chiron (Wounded Healer) to the North Node (evolutionary purpose), suggesting a potential crisis in the completion of the Earth Mission.

There is no need to fear the Progressed Lunar Return, any more than we need to fear other challenging transits.  There is great potential for growth and the exhilaration of transformation in the more difficult planetary events, but we must be willing to open ourselves up to new possibilities of awareness.

Update: Laura Boomer-Trent emailed me that the Astrological Lodge of London had done work in this area back in 2004 and you can find more about that here including an interesting but complex calculation connecting the Uranus and Neptune trines here.