THE FOLLOWING IS COPYWRITTEN MATERIAL
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This is Part 1 of a 9-Part Series
from a previously unpublished article
The Birthchart as an Invitation
Into the Realm of the Imagination
While I can acknowledge that there is a hallowed tradition going back thousands of years that gives rise to a certain shared understanding of astrological symbolism, I have also come to appreciate the capacity of that symbolism to reveal itself in ways that are fresh, unexpected, and outside the bounds of tradition. The ever-changing astrological pattern of the sky, in other words, is alive – revealing itself anew in each situation in which it is considered.
I have learned in over 40 years of practice that the best way to approach anything astrological is with beginner’s mind. It helps to have a good working vocabulary, but then the job becomes simply showing up, paying attention, and observing how the symbolism reveals itself in the moment. I call my approach to astrology “astropoetics[i]” to emphasize that the most potent insights often reveal themselves poetically – through simile and metaphor, image and symbol, suggestion and allusion, rather than direct, dogmatic statement of fact.
When astrology is approached in this way – as a right-brain contemplation of imagery and symbolism, rather than as a left-brained interpretative system based on preconceived ideas – it becomes a potent language of soul that allows for the possibility of ongoing self-discovery. Like good poetry, the language of astrology can surprise us with its capacity to unveil seemingly endless dimensions of truth using familiar “words” – a truth that shape-shifts in bewilderingly imaginative ways from one chart to the next, or even in relation to the same chart considered over time.
As Carl Jung once observed, “A symbol is an indefinite expression with many meanings, pointing to something not easily defined and therefore not fully known[ii] . . . I do not regard the symbol as an allegory or a sign, but take it in its proper sense as the best possible way of describing and formulating an object that is not completely knowable[iii].”
If we stop to consider that an astrological birthchart is a description of the interplay of symbols, then we must also begin to suspect that the birthchart may likewise be something that is not completely knowable. Rather than a coded script to be interpreted or explained, I prefer to think of the birthchart as an open-ended invitation to an exploration of the mysterious ways in which the imaginal realm intertwines with the life of an individual soul. At its best, such an exploration will engage us for a lifetime, without yielding a definitive or ultimate truth.
James Hillman takes Jung’s idea one step further by warning us that “We sin against the imagination whenever we ask an image for its meaning, requiring that images be translated into concepts. The coiled snake in the corner cannot be translated into my fear, my sexuality, or my mother-complex, without killing the snake[iv].”
If Jung and Hillman are right, then perhaps as astrologers, we too “sin against the imagination” when we attempt to interpret the birthchart – that is to say, translate it into concrete terms the conscious mind can grasp. Obviously, most clients come for help with specific issues, and we would be doing them a disservice not to spend some time discussing those issues in specific terms. Perhaps, however, we also do them a disservice by not also showing them just how deeply the rabbit hole goes into mysteries that are ultimately incapable of being fully known or even fully articulated.
[i] I first started using the word “astropoetics” in 2001 – as I was writing The Seven Gates of Soul. In 2014, as I was in the middle of writing my fourth book on the subject, I learned that Michael Mayer was probably the first to use the term in his book, The Mystery of Personal Identity (San Diego, CA: ACS Publications, 1984). His intent in writing this book (originally a Ph.D. dissertation) was to create “an astro-poetic language by using celestial metaphors to speak of personality . . . (as) a possible alternative to the current medical terminology” (xix). We share this intent, although our approaches are necessarily somewhat different, since our usages of the term “astropoetics” were developed independently of each other, and without prior knowledge of each other’s work. Having since read Michael’s book, I would recommend it as a complement to The Seven Gates of Soul.