Keywords won’t get you to the heavens…

I originally published this at my old blog, in 2007. I’m consolidating my various blogs.

Like most new astrologers, I learned the Zodiac and Planets with keywords to decipher the texture of their seemingly mystical and magical meanings. With every new chart I wanted to understand, I would pull down books from my shelf, like The Astrologer’s Handbook by Frances Sakoian and Louis Acker, and look up every placement, every aspect and think about the ways the planets might manifest in the person’s life. Perhaps now you do the same thing.

I think this method, many years ago, was a very necessary development because the way astrology views the world is very different than most other forms of understanding people.

However, with the advent of better books and the mass re-publication of books that have been lost for centuries, like Ficino’s Three Books of Life or Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, we’re able to get to a deeper understanding of the planets and the Zodiac. We can and must go beyond the keywords. We must come to live with the planets and the Zodiac.
This is an important thing to note as keywords, ultimately, can slow you down in analysis and prevent you from trekking into the hinterland where a client really lives. One way to do this is to get a deeper appreciation of the mythology and astronomy that informs the life of the planets and Zodiac. Another way is through experiential exercises, like meditation, free writing, and astrodrama.

Caroline W. Casey, in her superb book, Making the Gods Work for You, dives deep into the mythologies and etymologies from around the world—not just the Roman and Greek ones!—that correspond to the planets and Zodiac. It’s highly illuminating and provides stories, characteristics and key phrases that give more life to the planets and meaning in our lives. I also would recommend Valerie Vaughn’s Astro-Mythology as understanding the myths for the constellations will illuminate why keywords and phrases are associated with particular signs, like why the stars of Gemini are considered boons to sailors. Raven Kaldera’s Mythastrology: Exploring Planets and Pantheons does a similar thing, but pursues the myth of every planet in each sign, from cultures around the world.

As you read books like this, and these are just several of the many books of this ilk, you realize that exploring the mythic journey of the namesakes of the planets and their multicultural counterparts brings the planets to life from the inside out. From this perspective, we can be more detailed with clients for the scenarios they are playing out in the lives, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Likewise, it’s very important to understand the astronomy of the planets, and how their purely scientific or mathematical qualities also inform or run synchronous with our astrological understandings. For instance, you might know that Venus, both by her very glyph, … and her mythic history is associated with women, but did you know that “as seen from the moving Earth, Venus averages 260 days as either morning star or evening star, coinciding with the human gestation period of 255 to 266 days?” This fact from Dava Sobel’s marvelous short book, The Planets, only cements Venus’ authority as a key signature for women. Also, astrologers who intuitively associated the rebellious idealist with the planet of Uranus probably didn’t know about the astronomical fact that Uranus is the only planet in our solar system that rotates on a horizontal axis rather than the usual vertical one. A fact like this might really concretize the experience of someone who has Uranus rising or a strong Uranus aspect, like Sun conjunct Uranus.

However, the testimony of the planets in the interior lives of clients isn’t only achieved by our familiarity with myths, legends and astronomy. There are other powerful ways, too. Meditation free or creative writing and astrodrama are also very powerful ways to understand the planets and the signs.

I have had the privilege to work in a small Kabbalah spiritual group for the last 6 years. At the heart of understanding the planets and the Zodiac in traditional Western thought is the Kabbalistic tradition. You can learn more about my specific tradition here: During our weekly meetings, as we meditate on the parts of the Tree of Life, it helps me understand the nature and nuances of the planets. However, you could use your own meditation techniques to explore the interior life of the planets. Here are a few prompts: You could meditate on the levels of Love for Venus, for example. How does the energy and verve of Mars congeal into anger? How could the grandiosity of Jupiter manifest in our lives in good ways? How could it manifest in some not-so-good ways? In meditation, it’s about releasing your mind to allow the thoughts to come and go. As you go deeper, through modulating your breathing, you, ultimately, allow yourself to just observe your thoughts, not just participate in them. Once you do this, you can come to experience your own interior experience of the planets, possibly even surprising yourself by what you’ll find. It’s beyond the scope of the ability of this blog to teach meditation, but if you have a practice you can explore the interior nature of the planets on your own.

If you prefer something more active, free writing or even creative writing about the planets could be immensely illuminating. In free writing, the goal is just to let yourself write, without a lot of editing as you’re writing. It’s like meditation, in the sense that you let your thoughts just flow. One piece of advice that I’d give about the free writing process is DON’T STOP! Don’t stop to think. Don’t stop to re-read. Just keep writing for 5 minutes, initially, and then for longer periods of time, like 15 minutes to 30 minutes. Write whatever comes into your head, even like “I have to go to bathroom, but I’m committed to writing for the next 10 minutes, so I’ll wait!” This is fine. If you gently guide yourself back to the goal of the exercise, which is to let your mind just go about a particular planet or sign, you’ll gain a lot more insight into it then you would by just reading someone else’s words. If writing isn’t your thing, you might also try this with a tape or digital recorder.

If you prefer something more active and you have a few brave souls who’d like to be active with you, I would suggest astrodrama. Barbara Schermer’s book, Astrology Alive, is all about bringing astrology to life and she has a brilliant set of chapters on Astrodrama. I was able to start an astrodrama group for a short period of time in 2003, and let me tell you, it was a very powerful experience. We did an astrodramatic interpretation of a chart for the solar eclipse in May 2003 that still gives me chills. In it, we seemed to focus in on Israel, as the eclipse was very close to its founding anniversary date. We focused on the Moon in Scorpio and its squares to Mars, Jupiter and Mercury. Somehow we dramatically played out how the Moon in Scorpio cloaked itself as a religious friend (in the 9th house), but seethed with anger and terror. The very next week, a terrorist dressed as an orthodox Jew detonated a suicide bomb on a crowded bus in Jerusalem, the first time on record that a terrorist had actually impersonated a religious Jew. I seriously doubt if we would have found that analysis using keywords. By letting our imaginations come to life, we saw something dastardly that might have been prevented, if we had access to the right channels or collective faith in our ability to do so.

So with the fuel of myth, astronomy and imagination, the planets and the Zodiac can come to life…in your own life and that of your clients. It is a poetic life, ultimately, this life of the star-telling. It doesn’t mean you have to write the poetry, though you could. It means that the poetry is being written in the sky, and your job, as an astrologer, is to read this celestial poetry as deeply, well and creatively as you can.

Books I’d recommend from this blog:
The Astrologer’s Handbook (Harperresource Book)

Three Books on Life (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies)

Making the Gods Work for You: The Astrological Language of the Psyche

Astro-Mythology: The Celestial Union of Astrology and Myth

Mythastrology: Exploring Planets & Pantheons

The Planets

Astrology Alive: A Guide to Experiential Astrology and the Healing Arts

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