Mike Harding, D.F.Astrol.S, Adv.Dip.Ext.Psych, UKCP reg., is an existential psychotherapist and consultant astrologer. He is a program director at the School of Psychotherapy & Counselling at Regent's College, and a visiting lecturer on the Astrology & Cultural Astronomy degree course at Bath Spa University. Over the years he has chaired the Astrological Association, the International Association of Professional Astrologers and the Society for Existential Analysis, and was on the Council of the Urania Trust and Faculty of Astrological Studies, where he was the director of their Counselling Within Astrology course. He is the author of Hymns to the Ancient Gods, co-author with Charles Harvey of Working With Astrology as well as many articles on both the technical and philosophical aspects of astrology. In 1997 he was awarded first prize in the A.A.'s The Truth of Astrology essay competition. As well as his astrological writings, Mike has also published papers on the philosophy of language, with particular reference to the works of Freud, Lacan, Heidegger and Wittgenstein.
Q: How did your involvement with psychotherapy begin, and how did it develop?
Like many people, I first saw a therapist for my own personal reasons. I was going through a very difficult time at the of the sixties. I decided that I wanted go into analysis. I had a reasonable understanding of the various schools of thought, which is generally not the case for most who seek therapy, and I chose to see an existentialist. I'd always been very interested in the work of Freud and Jung. I started reading them from about the age of twelve, and so before seeing this man I had a somewhat conventional view of the human being - I hadn't yet discovered astrology - but this view started somewhat to dissolve during our time together. I was with him for many years. He was an unusual man, something of a maverick, even at a time when mavericks were more in vogue than they are now. As well as being a consultant psychiatrist, he was also a homoeopath, and a consultant obstetrician. I once asked him how he managed to wear so many hats; his reply was that he tried not to wear any of them. He was also a great believer in the use of LSD as a therapeutic agent, and that way of working had a great impact on me. Alas, we now live in a world where 'treatments' are increasingly evaluated by accountant-driven 'outcome studies'. One wonders how well Parmenides or Paracelsus would have fared today. Parmenides in particular. I can't imagine the NHS getting patients to sleep in a cave with snakes and hoping that they may have a dream that might lead them towards a personal illumination. Perhaps, sometimes, that's how it is. The Greeks lived with real snakes. Today we evoke imaginary terrorists, and hope that 'procedures' will make us safe.
Q: How does astrology fit into this?
As things turned out, I got into astrology pretty much as I was coming to the end of the analysis, and in fact Hymns to the Ancient Gods is dedicated to the 'maverick'. During that time I'd started training at North London polytechnic (as it was then) in group dynamics. It was an intriguing course, involving Marxist, Sartrian, humanistic, encounter and body-work approaches. There were lots of weekends spent at a remote retreat doing all sorts of things. It would be utterly impossible to get a course like that approved nowadays. Anyway, I worked in the area of groups on a part-time basis for a while. That all went by the wayside when I discovered astrology, which then took over my life completely. It wasn't until about 1990 that I started to get back into the area of psychotherapy more formally. Obviously, I'd used astrology in a counselling way - probably that was the main way in which I worked. But I decided to go back and complete my rather fragmented training, and get properly registered.
Q: What does your practice of psychotherapy consist of these days?
In practical terms, I spend most of my time working as a psychotherapist or teaching at Regent's College - teaching both in the area of psychotherapy and philosophy. It's one of the realities of life! I certainly haven't given up astrology, but I don't see many clients at the moment. I do a small amount of astrological teaching, but I don't see many clients. There just isn't the space for them at the moment, because what time I have free I want to spend writing. I can see this changing in a few years' time, that I will want to go back to seeing more clients. But at the moment, at a professional level, astrology plays a small part - although it is there in my life all the time, I always look to see what's going on [in the ephemeris], and am involved in various bits of small-scale research.
Q: On the basis of that experience plus your own work counselling people, what do you feel that psychotherapy can offer the individual?
That's a very, difficult question, because it has a lot to do with how someone is in their life at a particular moment. I think there are times when psychotherapy can offer very little; other times certain approaches, at certain important moments in someone's life, can offer a lot. I don't think I could write a description of what I think psychotherapy can offer per se, I think one would have to think about particular examples. In a general sense, at a very simple level, the opportunity to talk about what is going on for you is extremely important. The empathy (or lack of it) that you get is also important. Research clearly indicates that it isn't a particular approach that clients or patients see as significant, it's the actual person. Interestingly - and also rather challengingly from the point of someone whose life is spent teaching - research also indicates that it doesn't make a lot of difference whether the person is trained or not, in terms of whether the person experiencing therapy or counselling from them actually finds it beneficial.
That's quite a challenge. It doesn't mean that I think training or teaching is of no value, I think it is of value, I think the more we can learn, the more we know, the better. But the idea that, if you are taught well, you automatically become a good therapist doesn't work. You can't make the jump - if you are taught to do plumbing or woodwork or something you can achieve a certain level with it, you can be competent - but that doesn't always carry across to psychotherapy. I think there are imponderables which come in, which can't be taught. The actual life experience of the therapist can be an extremely important factor.
Q: Having said that it isn't possible to give a general answer to the question 'how does psychotherapy help?', could you give an example of a situation where psychotherapy did work - so that we know what kind of thing is being talked about.
I think it's the slow process of beginning to recognise who we are as people, and the opportunity to explore and to question how we've made sense or failed to make sense of who we are. To stay with uncertainty is extremely important, and hard to do. At core, I suppose most people have certain fundamental questions about themselves, certain questions about life, certain things they want to say about their experience. I think that for most of us, possibly for all of us, initially it comes out all over the place; we don't quite know what we want, we don't know where we want it from, or who we want it from, or what it is. So there are a large number of false starts; we open the wrong doors, we go down the wrong paths, have the wrong sort of relationships - 'wrong' in the sense that they are ultimately unsatisfying. Psychotherapy might give us the opportunity to reflect on this; and perhaps, if we are very lucky, find out what that question really means for us. 'Why has this happened?'; why am I the person I am?' - or whatever it might be. It's a slow process, but it can be powerful - if we also take heed of the snakes - and lives can be changed. But not always, and not for everyone. And, also, who makes the final judgement? A client might leave after a few sessions feeling that an enormous change has taken place, and the therapist might think that nothing has happened, and is wishing for their own agenda to be fulfilled.
Q: That's a question I meant to ask later - is it possible for the therapist to know what they have actually done at the end of a session, or a series of sessions?
I think it isn't, really. Partly because very often someone will come to therapy with a particular problem and then discover that isn't really their main concern; something else starts to happen and so the question of whether this first problem is solved or not often becomes an irrelevancy. So there isn't that guideline anymore to say, 'Well - I've solved this problem', because in the therapy you may not be concerned with it anymore, something else has happened. And some people simply like the process of therapy. They like doing it, much as they might like swimming or walking. It's carried out for its own sake, not for some kind of end-goal.
So, very often there isn't a clear indication of what has happened. Also, things don't stop happening. We reflect on our lives and experiences, and sometimes years afterwards can see something that we didn't see, or see it then completely differently. So the therapy (or the astrological consultation) is continued working. It may have been a disappointment at the time, and you think 'I've got nothing from this', and then some years down the line you think, 'Oh - that took place, and I never saw it happening'. When do you draw the line? The line only stops when we die, and until then there is always the possibility of re-evaluating something. This works negatively too; you may realise that something you thought was a great advance was not. That process continues; we are not static.
Q: It's difficult for the astrologer to keep all of that in mind during a consultation, when there can be a great temptation to say things which will evoke a reaction from the client.
Yes. But therapists do this as well.
Q: How has astrology affected your approach to counselling?
First of all, the issue of time is often ignored in therapy - except things like missed sessions; or do you work for forty five minutes, fifty minutes or an hour; and how do you get the client to stop when the time is up? But the philosophical concepts of time are left out of most therapies, and obviously it's a central aspect of astrology. My interest in the later philosophy of Martin Heidegger is precisely because he challenges the conventional, linear concept of time, and speaks of language as showing itself within the nature of time, which has obvious parallels with what astrologers believe. Working with astrology makes one sensitive to time in quite a different way. One recognises that something very profound is going on within time - but that thought is not often there within the psychotherapist, who invariably sees time as being demarcated by a clock.
As far as the actual practice of astrology and therapy overlap - with the clients I work with therapeutically, I deliberately do not ask their birth date. I do not even know the year in which they were born. There are some people who I do work with astrologically and therapeutically, but that's slightly different. Obviously one gets a sense of somebody, and one feels 'This might be Libra here' or 'This sounds like a Saturn-Neptune issue'. So the language of astrology comes in at a subliminal level for me. In that respect it's there most of the time.
I suppose it's really the issue is trying to be open to the sensitivity of time. Also, not drawing a tight boundary (which can often happen) between the person and the world. You really do see that we and our world are one, and that is something which comes across very strongly from astrology, and is there in both Heidegger and Wittgenstein. Some therapies would certainly look at the ebb and flow of the world through the individual, but often that is done in a pathological way - one is talking about 'repressed desires which come back to you as a car accident', or something like that. Astrology doesn't take that stance, it just recognises that your skin is not necessarily a boundary - that our world and what happens to us are one and the same. Jung said much the same thing, but he ultimately returned it to a pathology - we project our complexes onto the stars - as if we were the be-all and the end-all of all that surrounds us. In his Nietzsche Seminars he even claims that the positions of the planets has nothing to do with us. I am continually amazed that astrologers consistently quote him for their support, while ignoring what he actually wrote. I could literally give you twenty quotes that suggest he knew very little about astrology, except in an academic way; a knowledge of symbology and so forth.
Q: In Hymns to the Ancient Gods you were very critical of Jung. How do you feel about this book now?
I have very mixed feelings. It's now out of print. A couple of years ago I had an offer to re-print, but I turned it down. My thinking has moved on since then. The book was written very quickly. Probably too quickly. In fact I was writing it while I was collaborating with Charles Harvey on Working With Astrology, and putting into it much that was not possible to include in our joint venture. To put it simply, I was responding to various, and somewhat naïve claims made in innumerable astrological articles that Jung's work somehow confirmed the astrological world view. The truth, of course, is that Jung didn't even understand the precession of the equinoxes, or how that movement was built into the calculation of every birth chart, and thus made quite ridiculous remarks with regard to astrology. Everything was a 'projection' of the unconscious. Yet in his Dream Seminars he claims that nothing is ever projected and - most remarkably - that we don't have an unconscious. Jung's work is complex and often contradictory, and I don't have a sense that astrologers on the whole have really taken this on board. And in Hymns I didn't engage with them as much as I would have liked. I really only touched on those which had direct implications for astrologers. I think the technical sections of the book are probably the most successful.
Q: In 'Hymns…' you write, "as a cure for neurosis orthodox psychotherapy is still not working and it is demonstrably not working" (p12). Do you feel that the existential approach succeeds where the orthodox approach fails?
I don't think it necessarily does. It also would question what one calls 'neurotic', and having to categorise somebody as being 'neurotic' or 'not neurotic', 'psychotic' and so on. No, I think the existential approach would recognise that sometimes we simply are how we are. We may come to view ourselves differently, but there isn't a concept of 'cure' within existential therapy. There isn't this idea that because you have something distressing which is making you anxious that this should somehow be got rid of. It's more about what anxiety is for you, how something is actually experienced. I think anxiety simply is part of life. We tend to want to get rid of things which cause us pain in some way, but not the other way round. No one goes to their doctor complaining that they always wake up feeling happy - yet pain and pleasure are equal parts of life.
I think one would want to look at how the person experiences the anxiety - or whatever; and maybe there are things which can shift or change, but I don't think one would go in with the idea that this is necessarily a bad thing - that you wake up terribly anxious. Life provokes anxiety! The world is dangerous, it's larger than we are, is threatening at times and ultimately it will win - it will be here, and we won't be. Some of us, at certain times of our life, are very sensitive to this and very thin-skinned. It would be quite wrong to treat somebody like a child and say, 'No no this doesn't matter, it will all go away'.
Perhaps the existential approach is a recognition that their experiences are actually true in the terms of that person's life, and not symbolic of something else, such as the therapist's own world-view. One of the power games often played in therapy is the idea that the therapist really knows what's going on, and imposes this interpretation. I think one of the big problems with anxiety is that often people feel anxious about being anxious, feeling somehow that they mustn't be anxious. When that assumption is challenged, this can cause quite a considerable shift in how life is experienced.
Q: You were the director of the 'Counselling in Astrology' course that used to be run by the Faculty of Astrological Studies. What do you think counselling has to offer astrology and astrologers, and what have you learned from the way the courses have worked?
At a basic level, counselling is about listening to somebody. It's about being able to identify issues. It's about being able to make appropriate interventions, hopefully in a relatively sensitive way. And recognising some of the issues that can come up when two people talk about intimate and important things. So at that level, I think it's very useful for all astrologers to have some experience of that - even if they work in a very traditional way, like giving horary readings. I've seen some examples where people have been given readings from horary charts at public meetings - very insensitively: 'Well, your dad is going to die next month…'.
Well, if a person asks a question of such an astrologer and wants an answer, then at one level they can't complain if they get it. But there are better and worse ways of addressing powerful issues and I think that counselling can help the astrologer here.
At a deeper level, for people who want to see clients a number of times, counselling - by its nature, by its structure - gives one a way of thinking about, and working with, multiple sessions and recognising the kind of issues that come up when there are endings, or how clients may want to use time in the session - and so on.
So there are quite a few practical skills, ideas and experiences which can filter through. It's about skills and sensitivity to the type of issues that can arise when people talk of intimate things.
Q: What is your attitude to sun-sign columns?
I have a very negative attitude to sun-sign columns - primarily because that's the only thing one reads in newspapers. If there were more serious articles on astrology I don't think I would bother about the sun-sign columns at all, but because they are basically the only thing that the public will see in newspapers about astrology, I think it's a continual form of trivialisation.
I don't think it's done for anything other than money. I think astrologers kid themselves if they think, 'Well - I'm keeping astrology alive'. I think that statement is demonstrably false. You only have to look at what has happened recently in the former Soviet Union - astrology was banned for three generations, there were no sun-sign columns. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, astrology has absolutely taken off in Russia and its former satellites. They had doctoral courses before Bath Spa. The idea that some arcane knowledge is filtered in through sun-sign columns is, I think, nonsense. I think people do it purely for the money, and it doesn't help at all in keeping astrology alive.
I think it constantly gives a negative spin to the subject. It's the very first thing the critics of astrology pick up on, and the astrologers' answers can be very revealing. When one Russel Grant was challenged by Richard Dawkins on television, he drew an immediate distinction between sun-sign work and 'real' astrology. One doesn't have to be a psychotherapist to note the implication that Grant earned his living by doing something unreal.
Q: In the book [Hymns] a picture emerges of an immensely complex set of astrological interactions going on at any moment, so that the individual is much more than simply a natal chart - it's necessary to look at directions to the chart, perhaps the chart of the country in which they are living, charts of friends, family and so on. In addition to that, you use midpoints and harmonics. Doesn't this make astrology, to all intents and purposes, infinitely complex, so that it's impossible (at a rational level, at least) to process all of the data which would have to be brought to bear in delineating any chart?
I think that's true, my answer to all those points is 'yes'. I think it is infinitely complex, I think life is infinitely complex. If astrology claims to mirror, or describe life, then it will have life's complexity. Astrology gives us a number of pictures of the human being. For me, astrology is very much a language; it can describe things in ways that other languages can't; it brings things together which other people may see as completely separate. Astrology's usefulness is that it brings things together. It links and describes aspects of ourselves and world that radically challenges the prevalent scientific, Cartesian world view. Of course, Jung and Freud also do this, but much of their work strives to be 'scientific', and offers different theories of how people 'ought' to develop, and is thus also full of unconsidered moral injunctions. At its best, astrology is a language for talking about who we are and what we experience. Yes, we can wonder off into theory - I know this all too well from doing it myself - but the various techniques that we might employ can also be used purely descriptively.
Q: Can you give me an example of this from your own work?
Okay. Let's look at harmonics. John Addey's view, which was shared by Charles Harvey, was based on neo-Platonism. I have a great admiration for what both men sought to achieve - I can't overstate this - but at the same time I am fundamentally opposed to the way in which they thought. This is not easy to unpack, or easy to say, for that matter, for Charles was for me the consummate astrologer. He had a grasp of the breadth and range of astrology that I know I will never achieve. I tend to focus on specific issues and gnaw away at them in a slightly obsessional, Scorpionic way. Charles, with his Cancer sun was more at home with the subject. Charles was at home in the kitchen; charts were always bubbling away on the stove. For me, astrology is more unhiemlich - a word used by both Freud and Heidegger. It means 'un-home-like', or perhaps 'uncanny'. Imagine coming home and finding that the furniture was not quite in the same place as you had left it. You can't quite put your finger on how things have been shifted; all you know is that the hairs on the back of your neck are beginning to bristle. Astrology does this all the time. It constantly subverts our sense of the familiar. Something else is going on.
Yet I also hear myself contracting myself, (and also hear Charles' love of quoting Walt Whitman… I contain multitudes). In many respects I am also - at a practical level - very at home in the kitchen. I love cooking, and my ideal home will have a very serious stove. But for me, astrology bubbles on it in a slightly different way. The Platonic vision of what is 'cooking' always refers back to an abstract view of some ideal meal. Humanity is destined to move towards the ultimate expression of who we might become. An apparently unappetising dish may yet turn out to be a feast. One can also hear in this Jung's translation of the alchemical nigredo turning into gold. Yes. It might. But it also might not. What if there is no destiny, no purpose? Nothing that we could comprehend? What if all that we are, is who we actually are? Can we live with this possibility?
Q: This sounds like Nihilism.
No. Nihilism is the easiest of all get-out clauses. And here I will have to lurch into Nietzsche before getting back to harmonics. Nietzsche attacked the Platonic ideal, and totally changed the whole of western philosophy, which has a lot of implications for astrologers, whether or not they follow Lilly or Addey. He observed that we had built a picture of ourselves that was based on an abstracted picture of how we ought to be. Alright, his main concern was the Judeo/Christian tradition, but it holds good for much else. We get our sense of who we are from idealised fictions of how we 'ought' to be. Following Nietzsche, I call them 'fictions' because we pretend that all that we are has to be compared to an ideal version of human possibilities that that we have created from our own needs, and thus transposed to concepts that we have invented as being 'beyond us', while they actually come from who we are. We speak of an ideal 'other world' that generates us, of which we are its poor relation - call this the world of Forms and Ideas, or the unconscious if you wish - but at the same time we ignore that fact that this abstracted concept of how we ought to be has emerged from how we are. We have invented the imagined roots of our problems, calling them the past 'causes' of the distress we currently feel, whilst simultaneously creating their future outcome as idealised possibilities. In other words, we constantly use how we are in the present to justify an imagined past and future.
Q: How does this tie in to Nihilism and harmonics?
Let's look at Nihilism first. Nietzsche says that when we come to realise that we have invented a fictitious version of the world, and when we come to realise that this is the case - that all our great thoughts about humanity, which we have previously placed above and beyond us - are no more than our own displaced wishes and desires, we tend to recoil from the awfulness of this realisation. We retreat into a cold place, and tell ourselves that all our ideas have no value; everything is meaningless. Nietzsche said that, at that moment, having abandoned the falsity of our beliefs about the nature of the world, which have all been built on Platonic and Judeo/Christian thought, we should open ourselves to how the world might actually be. Things are happening all around us. The world is 'doing' something. Can we abandon our attempts to fit all that is taking place into some theory about it? Can we open ourselves to the actual experience of life, free of all previous ideas? Can we live in the moment of life?
Nihilism is the retreat from that immediacy. It is a giving-in and a denying. It is no more than the adolescent claim that I never asked to be born. True, you didn't, but so what? Who did? The nature of Life was never your choice.
Q: Are you suggesting that harmonics, or any other astrological technique, is a life-denying fiction?
Only if astrology is used as a rigid code that is imposed upon events in an attempt to explain them, and make them safe - much as religious ideas are used. So what is actually taking place gets ignored in favour of a self-serving and intellectually satisfying theory or picture. Some traditional astrologers are very good at doing this. When one of their rules breaks down, they wonder why the world isn't going according to their plan, rather than asking if the so-called rule just doesn't work. Of course harmonics could be used in just the same manner. For me, astrology comes alive when it is used to explore the nature of life, to open things up, not to try to make them fit. In this respect I think there's a greater potential in using harmonics, because there is the possibility of exploring a far wider range of aspects. It has the potential to be more phenomenological. By this I mean, that instead of saying that only a specific set of aspects can be allowed, we pay attention to what is actually taking place, and start from there. We look first at the reality of the relationship between planetary positions and terrestrial event, and not immediately lurch into theory. But very little work is done in that direction. As a group we tend to be very self-referential, and dislike learning from other disciplines.
Q: Such as?
Virtually all philosophy from Nietzsche onwards - and Wittgenstein in particular - demonstrates that there isn't any form of language that allows us to step outside of the world and perceive everything from some neutral position. Yet such a claim is implicit in much astrology. Some philosophies had that vanity in the past, some therapies still have that vanity. But there isn't an objective position, we can't step outside our world and look at it. We can see pictures of it, and I think the different astrological techniques are better and worse glimpses of our world, taking in different points of reference.
In just the same way as we may look at somebody's life, and they may talk about their waking experiences or they may talk about their dreams. The dreams are them, of course, in a different world - talking about different kinds of experiences. We can talk about parents and find fragmented examples of ourselves in their interactions, or we can talk about our world and see how we have adopted the values and the culture in which we live. So we get glimpses of ourselves in our world or in our parents or in our family, or in the ideas we have. And I think the different techniques within astrology, such as looking at the natal chart of the country, or one's parents, or a relationship, or an aspect of our chart (like looking closely at midpoints or harmonic aspects) - those are all different kinds of pictures of ourselves, and for me the value of it is whether somebody finds your picture useful at that particular time in their life. The idea that there is some form of objective truth is highly seductive -just look at how science is captivated by it. We are interconnected; I think this is the central message of astrology. We are together with the world all the time. It may be hard, sometimes, to feel it - but I do think that's how it is, and we are all products of our collective background and culture, it's embedded in us. In terms of the techniques, no, we're never going to put them all together, but what we can do is to be quite clear and methodical about what we actually do. This is something that John Addey spoke about a lot. It's not that one argues whether this zodiac is better than that zodiac, or this house system better than that; it's that we ask, what is it better for? In what way is it better? What do we mean by 'better'? Also, how well do we understand that particular dial, how well do we understand that particular frame of reference, and what do we use it for? These are more immediate questions.
Q: Could that also be extended to include the question 'for whom is it better?' - so there are different techniques which suit different astrologers?
Absolutely, yes. I think the moment one says 'better for' or 'it's important that', one always has to say, 'important for whom?', 'important for what?'. There is often some hidden or unspoken goal which we will need to be clear about. Certainly, some approaches will have a natural affinity with certain people, they can work very well with those approaches, and it would be foolish for them to deny that in themselves. That would be their particular path.
Q: Given that background, I'd love to hear how you prepare for a chart reading…
I don't take a lot of time to prepare. I will draw out the natal chart, I'll have the midpoint structures and have the computer draw out the fifth, seventh, ninth harmonic. Sometimes I might put in other ones, like the sixteenth, if it's a particularly strong chart. But if there's nothing particular in [say] the fifth harmonic I won't use it.
I have that information there, but what I actually use during the consultation depends very much on what happens. Bitter experience has led me to realise that someone may say on the phone, 'I want to discuss a problem with my relationship' - they come along a week or ten days later and what they actually talk about is something quite different, and they may have resolved the relationship issue in the intervening time. So you have done all this work, and they want to talk about whether they should buy a new car.
So I recognise that one can simply do too much, trying to second-guess time, which is always dangerous. I will want the client to start, then, by re-describing why they want to see me at that particular time, and what is coming up for them. Then just work from there - so I'd have the information in front of me to use and draw on, if I felt it appropriate.
I will have looked just for some basic patterns - and by that, I mean aspects and harmonics which are quite close in orb and the main midpoints, the ones which are closest in orb. I think it's a very basic and a very true astrological rule that the closest aspects we have - whatever they may be - do seem to be the most important for describing ourselves and our world. Given that you are going to be seeing someone for an hour, or an hour and a half, if there is information to impart then one wants to focus on what seems to be the most pertinent and powerful. Close aspects will probably work in many areas of someone's life - whether it's an intimate relationship, or their work-life, or their interests. So I will want to be able to say something about those.
But I won't go into great detail beforehand; I won't even begin to look at some of the possible ramifications of things, because then you just start going off on what you find interesting in the chart, which may not be of interest to the client. You often can start to create a kind of fictitious story, which may not be the client's story at all (at least, not their story at that time, it might be quite true in some areas of their life, but it may not be the area of their life they are interested in at that time).
Q: Do you use the consultation chart?
I'll certainly notice the time, and I will set a chart. In fact I'll often have the computer running during the consultation and see what's going on out of the corner of my eye. But I don't use it in the sense of something like a horary chart. But particularly when there's an aspect that becomes angular at the beginning of a consultation, there is that theme there.
One person did come and see me when Jupiter was exactly rising, and he started speaking about his fear of becoming too large. He didn't mean that he was putting on too much weight, but he was afraid that he was getting too dominant, and crushing people. That was not something that he spoke about when he rang to set up the consultation - it arrived, like he did, with Jupiter.
So I don't use those charts, but in hindsight they often are very telling.
Q: Do you do business work?
I've done a lot of business work in the past, particularly research for market trading. I worked in California for several years, on and off, for private individuals in a small trading group. That was very interesting, it convinced me that there really is 'something there' - that astrology really can pick turning points in markets. But it also reminded me that life is far more complicated than we usually recognise - and that astrology has got something to contribute, but it is part of a way of looking at the markets (for instance), and that it is one tool which one can use to make predictions, it is not the only one. But the fact that it can work at all underlines its importance.
I don't do business work at the moment, because it is very time-consuming. I would like to get back to it, for practical reasons - you really could, I think, earn your living at it. It would be nice to think that one used astrology to generate money for something useful. Also, it could be one of the best ways to demonstrate astrology - as Dennis Elwell has often pointed out - it could be one of the best research projects - because most people, when they hear of any new idea, will say, 'Well, can you make money with it?'. I wouldn't say that's the be-all and end-all of a particular idea, but it's not un-useful!
Q: Did anything emerge from your work that might impress Geoffrey Dean?
I think very little would impress Geoffrey Dean! To be honest, I'm quite at a loss as to why he is interested in astrology at all. He appears to think very little of it, so why does he spend so much time attacking it? Geoffrey Dean is a bit of a mystery to me. And no doubt it's mutual.
Q: Are you willing to have your birth data published?
Oh sure, yes. October 26th 1944, about 6.12pm (that's still wartime, so it's 5.12 gmt) and it's Croydon, which is 51.23N, 0.06W. My father said it was ' a bit after 6 o'clock'. For a long time I used 6.15, which is what he suggested, but over the years I have moved it forward slightly - from rectifying events, and using the charts of people I have met who were important for me.
Q: Do you think it would be possible to look at your chart and see why you have taken the particular approach to astrology that you have?
I have a very strong Saturn and Uranus, in different ways, in my chart. I think that often shows up in issues of harmonics - in the widest sense, so that people with very strong Saturn and Uranus often like harmonic music; they like Mozart and Bach, Philip Glass and things like that. They are often very good at geometry - not necessarily good at maths at all, I'm not, I'm nearly innumerate. At school I consistently came near the top at geometry, but was invariably bottom in arithmetic. But there's something about pattern recognition which is very strong with Saturn-Uranus aspects. So obviously it's a mark for an astrologer. It also shows up quite a lot in existential therapists, so there is that cross-over.
I have Moon in Aquarius - at 26 degrees, which is sometimes described as an astrologer's degree… although in large-scale research it doesn't necessarily come out as that, so maybe it's a certain type of astrologer's degree (the kind of astrologers who have Moon at 26 degrees Aquarius!).
I have Jupiter at 19 degrees of the mutable signs, and that does show up in research - that Jupiter at around 18 degrees of the mutable signs does show up in astrologers' charts with a greater frequency than chance would allow.
Q: William Lilly wrote, "The more holy thou art, and more near to God, the purer judgement thou shalt give". Leaving aside the religious form in which that is expressed, do you believe that the mental state, level of attentiveness, level of compassion which the astrologer brings to a consultation will play a part in the work they do?
Without question. One's mental and emotional state is going to show itself in everything one does. Adler had the notion of a 'world view' -something of who we are is always there, whether we are talking about intimate relationships or discussing the weather. Who we are is always present in every moment. But 'compassion' brings other things into play. I think there may be moments when compassion may want us not to be too direct.
I'm aware of having worked with people, as a therapist, who are in quite acute psychotic states. I have experienced the phenomenon, which is very common, that a number of people in psychotic states have enormous clarity in certain areas at certain moments. They can look through you, see exactly how you are feeling, and will often tell you straight as it lies. It can be a very shocking or sobering experience.
So clarity and compassion don't always co-exist. Often extreme levels of anxiety and disorientation can allow us to see people very, very clearly. It's as if our life depends on it - maybe that's how it's experienced. So I wouldn't like to come to a judgement as to whether one should be in a particular frame of mind when doing astrology. But I would prefer to be calm rather than psychotic! Whether this necessarily will make me a more acute astrologer, I don't know.
And clarity is sometimes a two-way thing. One may say something in a certain way - ostensibly very clearly - but it's not heard. Other times, one may say something obliquely and it's the important thing, the client really picks up on it, and the whole session is about a remark which - to the astrologer - might have seemed an obvious, almost a throw-away, thing. So one does have to be a bit careful sometimes. Roger Elliott made that comment once, in an article in the Journal - that sometimes, particularly at the end of a session, the astrologer might be tempted to say, 'Oh, and….' and just say something which, to the astrologer, may seem like a light-hearted or unimportant thing, but the client goes away with it and it may relate to something they haven't spoken about and the astrologer thus is completely unaware that he or she has touched on something which was too delicate to be spoken of in the session - yet that's what the client goes away with.
If one is in a pure, calm and wise frame of mind, one would not I think do that. I admit that I have, and sometimes it has come back to me - somebody has rung up weeks or months later, and said, 'What you said to me is still reverberating…' and I think, 'Oh God, I shouldn't have said that, shouldn't have done it like that - either said nothing, or introduced it earlier in the session, when there would have been time to go over it'.
Q: Are there any cases you could discuss from your astrological work which stand as examples of what astrology is like when it works?
At a practical level - someone came to see me, he was a property developer. That's putting it mildly - he owned a very large company that was concerned with property. It was in the year of the crash -'89- and it was a few months before that crash happened. He said he was getting slight doubts as to whether the property market would continue. I was looking at the Saturn-Neptune aspects that were coming up, and I also looked at what was happening in his own chart. I said very clearly that it was my honest opinion that we had seen the top of the market; that it would fall, and it would fall significantly. I must admit, when it happened I was surprised at how long the property market went down. But he did sell, he got out - and that consultation must have saved him millions, even tens of millions.
That was a good example, I think, of how astrology can work. The man knew his business, and he was getting a sense that the boom couldn't go on forever, and was recognising, 'OK - I need to get some advice here'. What astrology could then do, having an area to focus on, was to provide the timing and provide it quite accurately. The symbolic nature of the Saturn-Neptune conjunction and all that was happening around that time clearly indicated that property would be a major aspect of change. So those two things together [i.e. astrology plus the client's inklings], working with the client, focussing on the particular issue - astrology worked.
At another level, I remember a consultation with someone who was a very… it was as if he had ten planets in Capricorn in the tenth house. His whole life had been devoted to the family business, and he was a man in his forties. But he also had Moon in Gemini. Occasionally this popped out, but he felt somehow that he shouldn't have a light-hearted side, he should only have his nose to the grindstone. In the consultation, really, I spoke just about Gemini - in a very simple way, that one could probably have got from any book. I touched on some experiences that he half-admitted having.
After the session, I suppose a few weeks later, he rang me and said that he had thought a lot about our meeting. He realised that this [Gemini] was a side of himself, it wasn't something he should try and educate himself out. There was a playful, enjoyable, light-hearted side to him, and he made enormous changes in his life. He said that he felt really happy for the first time, and couldn't praise astrology highly enough.
It was a sobering thing, because I'd got all my charts, all my midpoints and harmonics - yet what had changed his life was a very simple discussion about Gemini - and a very light one, a very typical Gemini thing - light, fun, and at one level seeming not to have much substance. It was a good foundation of basic astrology, and also a reminder that things happen in a session regardless of what the astrologer plans, with all their techniques. Sometimes it is a very simple observation which is important.
What does come back, again and again - it's very challenging for therapists, and particularly for people who work in both these areas [astro & therapy] is that you see something is going on in somebody's chart, people come to you wanting change when Pluto is aspecting something, they come feeling 'all at sea' when Neptune is over their ascendant (or whatever) and changes seem to take place in their lives at very astrologically appropriate moments.
When I've worked with people who have been in therapy for many years - they often say that familiar thing: 'I've been doing this for years, I now know what my problems are, but I'm no nearer solving them'. Then they get their Pluto transit, and the therapy suddenly becomes effective. That's a challenging one, because many therapists would suggest that somehow the therapist and the client can make changes - not quite when they decide to, I don't think it quite works like that… But the idea that there may be some other deep factor in play is something which therapists and clients themselves/ourselves too maybe are reluctant to take on board. It's a challenging one; changes do seem to come at astrologically appropriate moments. But it may well be that the change would not have its efficacy if people haven't been struggling with their personal issues for many years beforehand, getting into the frame of mind where they could acknowledge the importance of change.
Q: That reminds me - in the book [Hymns] you write, "very little can be said about the possible process of an individual's psychic development from the birth chart…" (p.167). One of the astrologers who I've interviewed where she'd been seeing a client for a few sessions, then one day the police phoned her up - the guy was a wanted murderer. She felt that she should have seen this in the chart, so took her technique apart and put it back together in such a way that, she felt, she would be able to see that in future. You're saying the opposite really, aren't you?
Well for one thing, the chart is not the chart of a person, it's the chart for a moment in time. I can give you a chart and you won't know who or what it is for. So the chart is about 'the nature of time', whatever that turns out to mean. Once we know that it's for a person, that it's for a man or a woman, we can focus our minds and perhaps make some conjectures about how their life may have gone. But I think they would only be conjectures.
Your particular interviewee could test this quite simply - if you do feel you've got a signature for a murderer, Gauquelin has the data of several hundred murders. Can you tell? Can you split them from another group chosen randomly? I'm not saying this can't be done. I think there is a program [a computer program?] which can detect a propensity for alcoholism within the birthchart. I think this is a possibility. I think that is slightly different from murder… but it is a testable hypothesis. I would be very surprised if it could be demonstrated, because I don't think murder is a fact, in the sense that I don't think it's one category of something. I think someone who sits down and plans to kill their auntie to inherit a fortune is a totally different kind of person from someone who, in one moment of madness, lashes out and happens to connect with somebody's head, kills them, and spends the rest of their life in the deepest remorse. So I don't think there is murder as a separate category - so that would have to be explored.
What I was referring to more in that was also that, in relationship to therapy, a number of therapies have very carefully worked-out schemata of infant development - from the moment of separation, sometimes even beforehand, through the various assumed stages of development. I'm saying that astrology has nothing that mirrors that. We have very general terms - the Moon, or Mercury, for infancy; images of the mother and father… but there isn't a worked-out theory. I'm not saying that's a fault, because many of the worked-out theories within therapy might be (indeed, are) questioned by [exponents of ]all the other worked-out theories. It was just making an observation, really.
Q: Thinking particularly about your involvement with what would, I guess, be seen as pioneering techniques - harmonics and midpoints - do you feel that astrology is getting better, that it is moving from a dark age towards a golden age? Certainly some astrologers believe the opposite.
I don't believe in a golden age for astrology at all. I don't believe, really, in golden ages. It has to be a belief, because if people could demonstrate that there was a golden age of astrology, they would have to demonstrate how it was golden, in which case the golden age would be alive and kicking today. I think it's a big conjecture, and I wouldn't accept that there was a golden age in the past.
I don't think there is going to be a golden age for astrology in the future, where astrology is going to provide all the answers to life. I don't think that will happen, I think that's a vanity on behalf of astrologers. But I do believe that astrology could move to a time where it is going to be taken more seriously, and can contribute to everyday life in a very creative and practical way. I think there's a lot of evidence… I'm thinking particularly of people like Nick Kollerstrom and Mike O'Neill and their 'Eureka moments'. There are moments of time which are statistically demonstrable as being more conducive to bright ideas and inventions. If you were of an inventive disposition you could decide to go away over that weekend (or whatever) and really open your mind to the problems you have, and see if something comes through. I think astrology could be used for that - that's really just another way of talking about setting a chart for an appropriate moment. It's just looking at a cycle peak rather than an exact moment. I think astrology could be used for that to great benefit, and I think astrology has an enormous amount to say about human relationship and human experience. I think it could play a far greater part in what is sometimes (rather awfully) called the 'helping professions' than it does.
There may not be a golden age, but it could be a lot brighter than it is! And I'm optimistic that that might happen, but I think we have to overcome some of the negative sides - the Aquarius thing, with Uranus in Aquarius and Neptune now having gone in too. That's going to bring up a lot of fantasies around science. I think the old traditional arguments between astrology and science are going to get worse before they get better. I think people like Dawkins are straws in the wind, and some of the statements they make are phenomenally extreme - yet are often accepted. So astrology has its familiar obstacles to overcome, but I think things might get brighter eventually.
Q: Do you think a big part of that is going to be within the therapeutic community - an acceptance and use of astrology in counselling?
I think the therapeutic community is going to change too. It's not separate from the world. There's a book by James Hillman titled A Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Still Not Better! And that's true. Certainly in the 20's there was this belief that this system was going to be developed which would cure people, and it would be available for all and sundry. That simply hasn't worked, and I don't think it's going to work. There are so many assumptions in there that we haven't time to talk about, but I think that astrologers have to be careful that they don't do the same sort of thing and say that astrology will solve all ills.
But I think therapy will go through profound changes, when we realise that we want something from therapy which it simply can't give us - a perfect world and a perfect sense of self. Astrology can't do it either, but people may turn to other ways, which may be more significant, of talking about the world and themselves; ways which may have more meaning. I think at that point, astrology and therapy will get together - but it will be a very different therapy. A very different world, too.
Q: Which Astrologers would you cite as being the major influences on your work?
Without doubt people like John Addey, Charles Harvey, David Hamblin, the Ebertins, Charles Carter and Robert Hand. Some of Kepler's work has impressed me, too. His vision of astrology, and how it worked for him was extremely powerful. I've read a certain amount of traditional astrology, and I know the basics of Hindu and Aztec work, but for me it's important to put astrological ideas and techniques within some clear philosophical framework. I see astrology as a language. For myself, I place it within ideas stemming equally from Heidegger and Wittgenstein. Too often astrologers think that somehow we can exist without reference to anyone else, as if astrology were some kind of objective truth. Here we risk becoming just like Richard Dawkins. This is what I'm slowly writing about at the moment.
Q: Is there any essential difference between astrology & the tarot, or I Ching?
I think there are enormous differences. The fact that the chart is a mathematical construction places it in quite a different category. Potentially, there is replicable phenomena, the ability to evaluate aspects, elements, shapings etc. The other crafts are quite different, although the I ching lends itself to a mathematical analysis in some respects. For instance, Leibnitz was fascinated by its structure. He was probably the first Westerner to take it seriously. Where they do overlap is their similar concern with the nature of time, and their various attempts to portray the emergence of the moment, seeing what is in the process of coming into being. I have never worked in any serious way with the tarot, but have clocked up my share of hexagrams over the years.
Q: How would you describe your beliefs about the world? Are you a magician?
I'm certainly not a magician, in any way that I understand that word. But I'm not a technician, either. It's common in many forms of psycho-analysis and ego psychology to see the human being as central to everything. Sometimes the real world hardly exists, it's all the clients' projections, re-worked infantile fantasies etc. While ego psychology, particularly the American imports, claim that we have all sorts of amazing 'rights'; to be happy, to have the kind of life we want, to be parents at 60, and so on. Anything so long as we can afford it. Everything is a spin-off of Capitalism, of ownership and possession. We speak about 'our' life in the same manner we speak of our book, as it it's some kind of personal possession which we're in charge of. We are not in charge of life: it is in charge of us. If you doubt that one, decide to grow younger and watch what happens. Rather than being in the centre of things, I follow Heidegger in saying that we are very much to the edge. What we do is bring some small part of it (whatever 'it' is -and don't as me that one) into being. We disclose it through our own being. But, as Heidegger says, we're always limited by the nature of time. I can only bring into being the life of a 20th century male with a certain type of background. I can't disclose being a Roman soldier or an Aztec peasant. I can fantasise and pretend, but I can't really do it. The nature of time allows what can, and cannot happen.
In this respect see the birth-chart as being a picture of how we experience the world into which we are thrown. We have no choice about that, we are thrown into a language and a culture which determines us within a particular frame-work. You can call that 'fate' if you like. The different aspects etc. show us how we are attuned to life, and the language we use to speak it. Out of everything that is there, the Mars/Pluto square will pick up and draw out a different quality from the world than the Moon/Neptune conjunction. It will also speak about the world differently. Our chart contains so many aspects. Some of them we so obviously identify with (are conscious of). Others we are not, and are unconscious of. All in all, our chart connects us to everything that has come before us, layer upon layer, but still is there and embedded. I think the nature of language is the key here, that astrology shows us how language can function, but it is an extremely complicated area, and I tend to go on about it a lot.
Q: With regard to the prediction of death. Is it possible, if so, how, and should we do it?
I think it certainly is possible, but only under certain circumstances. For example, a very close friend of mine was terminally ill with cancer. He had a Sun/Moon square at 13 degrees of the mutable signs. His wife had her Sun on one of those degrees. He died on the weekend when there was a full moon on that degree. Obviously, full moons do not mean death, but given the circumstances… I have also noted how transits to a range of family charts can indicate something taking place which will affect all the members of that family. It might be possible to draw conclusions from that in some cases. One may make one's own observations, but in terms of clients this is not something I would attempt. Obviously, there are enormous ethical issues. We could spend the rest of today on that one!
Q: In your own 5th harmonic chart you have two very close conjunctions, and some fairly close oppositions. What do you make of them?
The two close conjunctions are Mercury/Uranus and Venus/Saturn. The opposition is between the Moon and Mars. David Hamblin speaks of this as an aspect connected with comedians, and that certainly fits. I have done several turns in stand-up comedy, and written one-liners in the past for 'alternative' comedians. I've also had quite a lot of humorous material published over the years. In fact I occasionally get letters from people who think I am the other Mike Harding -the Northern comedian who had his own show on tv a few years ago. Interestingly, he was born just three days before me. So he has the moon in Sagittarius, but we all have our cross to bear. The Mercury/Uranus conjunction obviously speaks of astrology, but, as you know, I think that one attribute of the 5th harmonic is an extension of Addey's idea of Mind. I think its says something about 'the language of the mind'. It's pretty strong in writers' charts, especially with Sun and Moon contacts. I like unusual writing -Ulysses is a book I come back to time and again. I also jump around with ideas a lot. The Venus/Saturn is the other side of my thinking. That's the philosophical/values side. The research and the reading. I share that aspect with Sartre and Nietzsche. My liking for Ulysses sums up to two pairs very well: a highly original book, totally inventive, yet one of the most carefully structured books ever written, everything's based a master-plan but it reads as if it bubbled up on its own.
has practised astrology since 1976. His other interests include Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Astrology in the Year Zero
published in 2000, resulted from Garry's study of astrology - in particular, from his investigation of the philosophy and assumptions that underpin the subject. His articles and lectures have appeared under the aegis of groups including the Astrological Association of Great Britain, the Astrological Lodge, the Company of Astrologers, the Urania Trust, the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism, The Mountain Astrologer, and Ascella. He is currently working on a PhD about astrology and truth at the University of Wales, Trinity St. David.
Visit Garry's website at http://www.astrozero.co.uk/
© Garry Phillipson