In agrarian societies, astrology was used to determine the times of planting and harvesting of crops. In the eras of great kings, it was used to foretell the political fortunes of monarchs. In our psychologically-oriented era, astrology is used for self-reflection and self-awareness, and to navigate complex crises and metamorphoses. Utilizing astrology as a means of spiritual guidance is known as transpersonal astrology—a relatively new approach that was envisioned in the writings of Dane Rudhyar.
The symbolism of astrology can be interpreted on four levels: biological, socio-cultural, individual (humanistic), and transpersonal. These four levels aren’t hierarchical; they are four different interpretive lenses one can look through, and an evolving astrologer can utilize all of them.
At the biological level, medical astrology can help resolve difficulties in maintaining a healthy physical organism. Applied at the biological level, astrology has also been used for weather prediction and coordination of agricultural planting and harvesting.
The Art of Guiding Ourselves
At the socio-cultural level, astrology helps us find the most suitable vocation, and to resolve problems of work adjustment, social adaptation, and interpersonal relationships. One of the most important skills for an astrologer to master is the art of guiding ourselves, our loved ones, and our clients to fulfillment and success in our vocation, in our careers, in the path of our heart’s desire. All astrologers, no matter what methods we use, advise people about how to find their way in the world of work and vocation.
In vocational astrology, we’re concerned with two distinct tasks: finding a way to earn our livelihood and finding our calling – our true vocation. Sometimes these tasks are synonymous, so we learn to translate what we love doing most into our source of income. But frequently the path of our calling isn’t the only way we earn our living. Vocational astrology aids us in both tasks—finding a job and pursuing a calling. To actualize our vocation is to find an expression of the true self, the natal Sun, in alignment with our solar zodiacal soul path, and the evolving pattern of progressions and transits.
For vocational success we need to awaken the powers associated with each planet. Mercury: good language and communication skills. Jupiter: expansion through education, planning, goal-setting, and taking advantage of moments of opportunity. Mars: energy, drive, initiative, motivation. Moon: Caring and showing our concern for others, sustaining emotional attachments, and being in our emotional center in whatever we’re doing. Venus: having good people skills, dressing well, and exhibiting tact, diplomacy, and social appropriateness. Highly skilled or talented individuals with underdeveloped Venus functions may be hampered in their progress, because they don’t know how to mingle easily with others and make a positive impression. And it’s important to develop the Saturn functions of focus, commitment, hard work, conscientiousness, and organization.
Ultimately, the natal Sun is the primary vocational indicator. In addition to studying the dispositors of the Ascendant and MC and the overall sign and house emphasis of a chart, I closely examine natal Sun’s house and sign, solar aspects, and the placement of the Sun’s dispositor.
The socio-cultural level of astrology also encompasses the study of mundane astrology. This examines social issues, political trends, and historical cycles – including the astrology of nations and political leaders.
The individual, humanistic level of interpretation refers to a psychologically-oriented astrology that describes personality dynamics and helps us to actualize our individual potentials. Humanistic astrology illuminates the challenges of individuation, the process of becoming an individual and enacting one’s identity. It sheds light on struggles and crises we experience when we question and evolve beyond the collective mentality of our times and pursue interests or activities that are at odds with Saturnian social norms, traditions, and demands for conformity.
Transpersonal astrology goes even further, illuminating the process of self-transcendence and spiritual awakening. In Rudhyar’s view, the process of becoming free, autonomous individuals sometimes causes us to fixate on money, status, and materialism. We grow very attached to the ego – to getting what we want and fulfilling our desires. But sometimes we must accept and yield to the existence of forces greater than the ego – greater than our powers and free will as individuals. Seen through the lens of planetary symbols we find meaning in our moments of loss, suffering, and defeat – experiencing hope and the birth within us of a luminous wisdom. We can face and understand various tests and ordeals of the spiritual path.
For example, a woman had transiting Saturn turn stationary direct conjunct her natal Neptune and Ascendant in Libra for several months. At this time she underwent some shared sorrows and suffering in her marriage (Neptune in Libra) as she learned that her husband had Parkinson’s disease and came to terms with what it meant to care for him. She had practiced Buddhist meditation for several decades and now she was faced with a situation that invited her to practice the teachings of egolessness and loving kindness to manifest true enlightenment (Neptune). Seeing her very challenging test in this archetypal light gave the process nobility and sanctity.
Occasionally I meet people who approach astrology with a certain dread, viewing their birth charts as a curse they must endure. Certainly each of us becomes aware of certain areas of tension and challenge in charts and in ourselves. However, astrology has evolved beyond the ancient belief that the world is a prison ruled over by planetary forces determining our fate. The humanistic turn in astrology begins with an emphasis on choice, free will, and a non-deterministic attitude in our response to celestial influences. The planets describe certain formative, structuring influences but it’s always within our powers as human beings to make something of our situation. Humanistic astrology, which Rudhyar describes as person-centered, illuminates our process of emergence as self-determining individuals. Planetary symbolism helps us envision what we can become and guides us through the steps needed to actualize ourselves. Humanistic astrology views the birth chart as a mandala, a blueprint of the individuation process for that person. As Rudhyar put it, astrology can “help any individual to gain a clearer and more objective consciousness of the law of his being.”
The Conscious Way
To study the horoscope’s blueprint and to follow the birth pattern with consciousness is to walk what Rudhyar calls the Conscious Way, a path of wholeness, of actively fulfilling one’s potentials.
Consider this example: Jed, a 64-year-old man, has Sun-Moon in Aries in the seventh house, with Mars – the ruler of Aries, conjunct Saturn and Pluto in Leo in the tenth house. Jed was constantly irritated, if not outright enraged, with his wife of 25 years, Bella, and expressed resentment about his responsibilities and the arduous labor and expense of raising three children. Jed wondered if he should get a divorce and find a new, easier relationship. He’d spoken to an astrologer who told him his Mars was “afflicted” and that because Mars – the dispositor or planetary ruler of Aries and Jed’s seventh-house – was conjunct Saturn and Pluto in Leo, marriage and parenting would always be difficult and unfulfilling for him. It always pains me to see people approach astrology in a way that instills fear and negativity about the defining features of their lives; so as a humanistic astrologer, it was important to me to offer Jed a more helpful, constructive interpretation.
It’s true that this combination of Mars-Saturn-Pluto (none of them lightweights) involves symbolism traditionally considered to be malefic. Certainly parenting involves tremendous exertion and sustained effort, and Jed did indeed have a fiery relationship with his wife. He found her difficult and egocentric, and sometimes they locked horns and butted heads like a couple of rams (Sun-Moon in Aries). But Jed had successfully walked the path of marriage, involved fathering, and conscious parenting – and he was proud of these accomplishments. With Sun-Moon in the seventh house, and their dispositor Mars conjunct Saturn in the tenth house, work, marriage, and fatherhood were the building blocks of Jed’s existence. He was a tremendous provider and an authoritative parent whose children knew what his expectations were but also felt his warmth, affection, and support. Jed embodied the best of Saturn – the archetypal father, provider of order, security, and protection. The same astrological symbolism that from one perspective seems to indicate doom and gloom can also be viewed as representing Jed’s crowning evolutionary achievements.
The birth chart doesn’t just describe a fate we’re trapped in. It indicates challenges that can be freely chosen. I wanted Jed to see the combined energies of Mars-Saturn-Pluto as defining his greatest capacities and strengths, his nobility of character, forged through tests of responsibility. Also, regarding his allegedly afflicted Mars, Jed was an athlete who still competed in several sports well into his sixties. His Mars energy was strong, focused, and productive.
Humanistic astrologers believe that challenging planetary placements and alignments have an evolutionary purpose. Jed had become the man the universe intended him to be.