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Dennis Elwell

Dennis Elwell

Dennis Elwell's groundbreaking-book:

Cosmic Loom by Dennis Elwell

Fate and how to avoid it - by Dennis Elwell

Newspapers usually make depressing reading, a saga of disaster relieved only occasionally by some fugitive ray of hope. Astrologers connect these melancholy events with the heavens, and in the public mind seem to be blaming them on Saturn, or Mars, or whatever, a confusion of correlation with causation. But does it help anybody to know that the planets are involved, beyond the glum confirmation of their role in giving the events the seal of cosmic authenticity?

Again, when our individual lives take a turn for the worse the knowledge that the planets are paying us unwelcome attentions may help us to be resigned and even accepting. At least you know this missile had your name on it, and had not accidentally veered from a target in the next street. Okay, you may say, but why me?

The big question is whether astrology can be moved on, beyond merely noting correlations, and itself become the means whereby we can improve life, perhaps even by avoiding the very perils to which the planets are pointing. In fact astrology is nowhere nearly as effective as it ought to be in steering us safely towards our best good. Yet here we have a unique perspective, one that takes us behind the scenes of life, the backstage of ropes and pulleys, and initiates us into the how and why of what the audience sees. If this vantage point cannot be used to tangible advantage there is something wrong.

Lately I have been trying to find out how useful astrology has been to people, including astrologers themselves. It has been instructive to comb the literature for evidence of when astrology has made a difference. The result was not only instructive but sobering, because astrologers and their clients rarely seem to have been benefited from the stellar input - rarely, that is, in proportion to the amount astrological activity going on.

It is fair to say that many astrologers are doubtful about how they should be handling the future states to which the ongoing movement of the planets is obviously pointing, and indeed some have abandoned prediction in whatever terms. The apprehension increases incrementally as predictions are seen to fail. No wonder that in the introduction to her Predictive Astrology: The Eagle and the Lark Bernadette Brady four times uses the term 'minefield' to describe what is encountered in this area!

Early in his career Charles E. O. Carter wrote in The Seven Great Problems in Astrology (1927) that only people possessed of considerable moral courage should study their own charts, adding 'The nervous and fearful should leave Astrology strictly alone, at any rate until they have overcome their weaknesses.'

Yet you may have noticed that some pretty unpleasant things are all the time happening to non-astrologers! In contrast one would hope that by virtue of their studies astrologers have the means of being less nervous and fearful. In the same essay Carter himself says 'it would be the sheerest waste of time to calculate future influences if they were incapable of alleviation by human action… The stellar influence is admittedly subtle in the extreme, but we have no strong reasons for supposing that it is impossible to mitigate its action. At one time nothing might have seemed more hopeless than at attempt to ward off the lightning, yet now lightning conductors are common-place.'

Regarding its connection with the future, there are two sorts of astrology. One is about predicting outcomes, as if they were already graven in stone, the province of divination and fortune-telling. The other is more concerned with changing outcomes by understanding where the levers are.

In squaring up to these problems I would suggest that attention be given to the terminology of foreknowledge, in particular the distinction between destiny and fate. Although the terms are often regarded as interchangeable, I would submit that fate is what gets dumped on you when you stop attending to the proper issues of your destiny. It's a fallout, incidental and often accidental, and it's usually messy.

Steven Forrest is one astrologer who acknowledges the difference between fate and destiny. On his website he wrote: 'In the dictionary the two words are not far apart in meaning, but they certainly carry a different emotional resonance. Destiny sounds much more inspiring. The distinctions run deeper than verbal legerdemain such as calling old age the "golden years" -- or interpreting errors of astrological judgment as evidence of a client's "free will," for that matter. Fate and Destiny are different animals, I think. Destiny is higher; it has more to do with one's potential, or dharma, or divine plan -- put your money in whichever plate appeals. Destiny is something for which we must strive; Fate is what happens to us if we don't. Both are visible in the birthchart. My task with a client has always been to distinguish the two, to warn of fate's slippery slope, and to encourage the realization of Destiny. Clearly, such an approach is empty if I do not honor the client's capacity to choose - and correspondingly tremble at his or her capacity for lassitude, displaced rage, despair, and so on: the drearily familiar list of demons with whom humanity has been doing battle since the beginning.'

Astrology has had a long struggle with freedom versus determinism. In the literature it has been usually represented as an argument between fate and freewill, but the real contest is between fate and destiny. As we shall see, they have a different vocabulary, or at least a different idiom.

The astrologer can sort out what belongs to destiny and what is likely to happen when destiny is unheeded. They are both modulations of the same process of manifestation, a stepping down from the higher to the lower. What should be happening in a person's life can be diagnosed in the time-signatures which astrology has developed, the cyclical correspondences of which the best known is the equation of a day after birth to a year of the life. These represent the natural unfolding of a destiny, but if this does not take place as it should the system goes into default, collapses along the lines of least resistance, and destiny's dark brother, fate, fills the vacuum. Fate is always recognizable astrologically, as the misshapen twin of the original cosmic intent. It embodies the same factors, but without a constructive outcome.

I have always remembered a line from what today would be called a channeled source: 'Only when you are too inert to shape yourself, are you at the mercy of the Pattern Maker.' Of course most people do not suspect the existence of the Pattern Maker, but astrologers can understand that it is the cosmos, when left to its own devices. Probably the Pattern Maker has an unrestricted hand in the realm of world events, because collectively there is no attempt to shape events 'below' according to the pattern 'above', or even an awareness of the possibility. In contrast as individuals we can see the cosmic process for what it is, namely an essentially interactive program.

As a practical illustration of what is involved here, I want to explore a situation that arose in the life of Charles Carter, in his day the doyen of British astrology, whose writings still attract a worldwide audience. He was one of my heroes, and I know that with his striking intellectual impartiality, a gift of Libra rising, he would be glad for us to discuss this object lesson. From it we can learn something about how effective or otherwise astrology can be in the real world, and more importantly discover that we may have overlooked the most important element in the play of events.

On 16 August 1926 Carter was with his family on a seaside holiday. His daughter, playing on the roof of an outhouse, fell through a skylight and was found unconscious on the stone steps below. She was not badly injured, but might have been. Can't you just hear Mrs Carter demanding to know what was the point of astrology if threats to their children's safety could not be foreseen! Describing this case in his Symbolic Directions in Modern Astrology (1929) he tells us that the two methods of directing which would have sounded the alarm were not known to him at the time, adding: '… but it is a wide question as to how far the danger might have been averted. That danger was near I knew from the child's own directions and had actually issued a warning for that reason.'

This failure of astrology to prevent an accident that might have been a lot worse may have haunted Carter, because he returned to it in a lecture on 'The Aspects' to the Astrological Association in November 1958 (reprinted in An Astrological Anthology 1995). He thought the key to the event had been the arrival of Venus by axial rotation to the opposition of Saturn. The event was a perfect expression of the direction, he said, because Saturn was falls, Venus a young female, and Venus had come from the 5th house, children.

Now this was not the only accident to a child in the family at that point in his life. A year earlier the same opposition had been formed by the one-degree increment, a technique he himself had advanced, with exactly the same effect except that the victim was a niece, who as a result suffered to some extent for the rest of her life. We learn from his book The Astrology of Accidents (1932) that - by a startling coincidence - the niece had also been holidaying at the seaside when she had the fall which incapacitated her for three years.

Carter told his audience that in both these cases the 'essential principles' were quite clearly demonstrated. He added that there was one exception that might seem noteworthy, namely that the sign-position of Venus in Aquarius was not represented. Critically, however, it is precisely the essential principles that are lacking from the equation, because Carter is not looking beyond the low-level correspondences of the factors involved. The process of manifestation has a top-down dynamic, not unlike a graded sieve, and what presents itself as an end result is often little more than chaff.

What Carter did not seem to be aware of was a powerful Venus-Saturn aspect which mainstream astrology would have readily identified, since it belonged to the day-for-a-year progressions. May I say that before computers it was quite easy to overlook aspects. I recall having to manhandle a heavy garden statue of Hermes, cast in lead, which we had been asked to look after while the owners moved house. Contemplating him over a cup of tea, and making the obvious connection with Mercury-Saturn, I realized I was currently involved in a session of exchanging weighty and exacting letters with lawyers. This is not so much reading charts as reading life. As below, so above! Going indoors, I discovered a Mercury-Saturn progression I had missed.

In Carter's secondary progressions a Venus square Saturn had formed, and in turn both bodies made a hard aspect to natal Mars in Pisces in the 5th house, a factor consonant with emergencies involving children on holiday. Throughout astrology the watchword has to be 'Think patterns, not spots,' and as an additional emphasis the progressed Sun was simultaneously semisquare the natal Venus/Saturn midpoint, to within a few arcminutes.

Carter considered his daughter to be a Venus figure, but a girl of ten is more likely to belong to Mercury. Venus is certainly young women, but more so after they have rounded out, just as Mars is young men after the testosterone kicks in. Before that both lads and lasses, as uncomplicated schoolchildren, are appropriately Mercury.

In support of this rulership we note that at Carter's lunar return Mercury in Leo in the 8th was exactly squared by Saturn in Scorpio prominent in the midheaven. The Sun in Leo opposed natal Mercury. Tertiary progressions had not arrived on the scene yet, but we see in retrospect that Saturn in Leo was opposite natal Mercury and square natal Moon. Carter himself observes (Symbolic Directions) that 'On the very day Mars was in transit over my Moon radical' -- but any transit over his Moon would automatically involve natal Mercury by square. This kind of joined-up astrology, in which similar strands are seen to be reinforcing each other across the various time signatures, lends an increased confidence to our conclusions. There can be no justification, in any study where a number of influences have to factored in, for settling on some favourite method.

But what did the important Venus-Saturn progression mean, in this context? On a level higher than outcomes, it was pointing to the issue of responsibility in relationships. We are social creatures, and as well as taking responsibility for ourselves we are charged with the duty of looking out for our nearest and dearest. Venus-Saturn flags up the need to take that responsibility more seriously, and contains a warning that if we fail to respond in a mature way to this demand of destiny then fate may step in and bring home the lesson through dire consequences.

How we as individuals are membered into society as a whole can be indicated by Aquarius or 11th house planets, which may explain the mystery of his Venus being in Aquarius. If his daughter had been playing with friends Carter would have said so, since it would have accounted for the presence of Aquarius in the equation. But in astrological interpretation we are constantly challenged to raise our vision from street level to helicopter level, with its more extended and inclusive vantage point, and here Venus would become a marker for the individual's broader social obligations.

At street level we find tangible events, and Carter would be the first to appreciate the significance of natal Venus in the 5th squared by Neptune (the seaside) from the 8th (trauma, danger). It has to be significant that at his solar return Saturn in Scorpio fell on this Venus-Neptune square, which certainly did not shout 'Let's all go on holiday to the seaside!', but might have whispered 'If we take a seaside holiday we must exercise more care and caution than usual.'

The family went to the Isle of Wight, which may not have been such a good idea, since the planet governs islands and all islanded states. Another prominent feature of the Saturn package is gravity, and becoming victim to it.

Suppose that Carter had taken the cosmic hint and reviewed and reinforced the scope of his responsibility for loved ones, would this child have been playing on the roof? Who was supposed to be looking after her?

What were his daughter's own aspects, prompting him to issue a warning? By progression her Sun exactly squared natal Saturn. Before we start considering eventualities like falls, it should be recognized that on another level Sun-Saturn is involved in the attainment and practice of self-responsibility, and occurring at the age of ten the aspect was a signal to take this step towards maturity. More than that, the aspect would be compatible with the lesson being remorselessly driven home by a killjoy father, who might have insisted on her feet staying on the ground, and being more watchful to make sure they did.

A joined-up astrology would have noted that another Sun square Saturn appeared at her lunar return, serving as an additional emphasis. The Sun was in Leo in the house of holidays, and Saturn in Scorpio in the house of traumas.

At this point it is necessary to make an observation which could hardly be more important in understanding the connection between the 'above' and the 'below.' If we speak of the issue of responsibility for others, or the issue of self-responsibility, what sort of language is this? It is not the language of physical actuality. More importantly, it is not the language of psychology. Nor does it owe anything to divination, or fate. It seems to me that we are here on a different level altogether, among what can only be described as spiritual imperatives.

We move naturally into this type of thinking when we view astrology as highlighting issues, bringing realizations, raising questions, suggesting fruitful strategies, drawing attention to opportunities, affirming ideals. This approach to the message of the heavens seems to possess an objectivity we do not often find in psychological astrology. At its worst the psychological approach becomes so subjective that it seems never to rise above how we are supposed to think and feel, courtesy of the planets.

There are astrologers who will shy away from that word spiritual, as they might from the suggestion that the reality they are encountering is more moral than mechanical. Is it so extraordinary that we humans might be participating in a system in which spiritual and moral dimensions are primary?

My own belief is that when astrology gained the psychological it was at the expense of the spiritual. In the traditional triune picture of the human being as body, soul and spirit, the 'soul' seems to be the equivalent of the psychological. Where did the spirit go?

Among astrologers not afraid to speak of the spiritual was Llewellyn George, who memorably wrote: 'We are "free" according to our wisdom, and we are "fated" in proportion to our lack of understanding. Astrology teaches when to expect changing circumstances in life and their nature; by it one may prepare to manipulate, transform and improve so-called "adverse" conditions before they appear and manifest better responses than otherwise.'

He adds that astrology invites us to a conscious co-operation with Natural Law as indicated by the solar system - 'That law creates conditions which provide opportunities for us to rise above the common illusions of life by spiritual interpretation and finer reactions.'

One might think the spiritual is a sort of optional extra when it comes to astrological interpretation. On the contrary, to get upstream of manifestation -- above the levels of the factual and the merely psychological - is to enter a realm where the cosmic indicators breathe freely in their own natural atmosphere, making it possible to achieve interpretation which is both more accurate and more helpful.

Here is another Venus-Saturn problem. Margaret Hone, a leading light in the Faculty of Astrological Studies, describes in her Applied Astrology (1953) a case which, despite its exhaustive treatment, seems to miss the point altogether. She was consulted by a man who was totally distracted because during his second marriage, just as in his first, he had become involved with another woman. In page after page Margaret Hone analyses his psychology, his wife's psychology, and the psychology of the other woman, and in the end the only advice she can offer to soothe his agitation is to do some constructive work. You feel that under different circumstances she would have suggested cold showers.

It is only when she comes to sum up the issue for the benefit of her readers that she goes to the heart of the problem. She titles the chapter: Love or duty? Now it happens that in his chart Venus is within a degree of the square of Saturn, which exactly reflects her summation. But in reading his chart all she says about Venus Saturn is that it makes 'harmony and easy relationships with others extremely difficult.'

If Margaret Hone had recognized Venus square Saturn as the decisive player in her client's problems she would have had all the factors in her hands to explain his twice repeated predicament and perhaps show him the way through. Saturn was in Pisces, a sign that often seems dilemma prone. It tends to frustrate definite commitment in one direction, turning back on itself. This innate tendency to keep options open accounts for the oft-observed propensity to 'self undoing', where one is impelled to defeat one's own efforts before the concrete sets.

His Venus was in square from Gemini, sign of plurality, or at least duality. In the spiritual arithmetic of relationships, or the psychological equation if you prefer, it is a truism that two women are less than one woman. Again, in relationships there are people who will meet you half way. There are people who come more than half way. But if you are involved with a Venus-Saturn person the chances are you have to go more than half way towards them, because something prevents them from moving too far beyond their boundaries - indeed in all the interchanges of life they can seem unforthcoming. At the root of this is a sense that relationships can compromise their own sense of identity, as indeed they can.

He was 45 at the time he sought astrological advice, an age which tends to throw up the significance of natal squares, as does of course the age of 90, for those who get there. I do believe that had the overriding importance of this square had been recognized he might have been able to reconcile himself with this theme of his destiny, which could well repeat again and again if not addressed.

This client was not looking beyond his current bewilderment and emotional stress, not examining his predicament as part of the wider structure of his life. Most of the time we are not aware of any overarching spiritual or moral issues, being too absorbed in what we think, with how we feel, in the immediate present. We don't easily lift ourselves above the surface turmoil, and see what events mean by happening. Astrology and astrologers should be there to help us gain this insight.

Just who is this entity, experiencing the ever-changing planetary climate? Some people believe that as well as our everyday consciousness we have a higher consciousness, a senior partner. Not so much an unconscious, collective or otherwise, as a superconsciousness. Could it be that this other self registers the cosmic differently? Rudolf Steiner once remarked that there lives within us a principle which is grateful for every event, both 'good' and 'bad'. Does this other self pilot the helicopter?

Before people fall from heights, or fall for the 'other' man or woman, there is a stage, upstream of that eventuality, where the outcomes are still undeclared. The invisible influences are still malleable and capable of being guided to different forms of ultimate expression, provided they are understood at the appropriate level. Too often however, we are not alerted to what is pressing towards manifestation, as our spiritual destiny, and we sleepwalk our way into the realm of fate. Then it is as if a stack of dominoes has started to collapse, a knock-on with an inevitable result. Yet even at this point it may be possible to intervene in what could well be an emergency, provided the astrologer knows how the spot the cosmic indices as they begin to emerge into what we are pleased to call the 'real' world.

The art of intervention is the key to making astrology relevant again. Moreover it is the key to making astrologers relevant again. It is often said that in this information age prosperity will belong to a knowledge elite. What you know will count more than what you have, or indeed who you know. It would be good if astrologers could be numbered in these privileged ranks, since they have access to a realm of information which is extraordinary indeed, but some rethink of aims and methods may be needed before the pieces fall into place.

Consider two events, with their shrieking headlines. Princess Diana meets a tragic death in Paris. She often sought advice from astrologers and psychics, so the obvious question is why the advice was not of more use to her. However the tragedy could have been circumvented at a number of points in that developing situation. Again, President Kennedy is shot dead in Dallas. Should he have been in that place at that time? Was there any way an enlightened astrology could have rung the alarm bells? Here too, the answer is yes. It is not a matter of whether astrology was predicting an assassination, but whether it was diagnosing that Kennedy was on a collision course in need of a speedy correction.

In the future the role of astrologers may increasingly be somewhere between a minder and a life-coach. The rich and the famous are as vulnerable as anybody else to the sideswipes of fate, and perhaps more so since the artificial demands imposed on their lives means they are less authentically connected to the pulse of destiny. So the astrologers who can steer their charges through the white-water rapids are likely to be handsomely paid, which is just as it should be. But the astrologers who qualify for this role must have first honed their proficiency to the point where they see exactly why Diana would have been well advised to avoid Paris that weekend, and why Kennedy would have been wise to use a car with a hard top.

Trouble is, there does not seem to be much urgency in the astrological community to learn from such baleful events, striving to identify when and how interventions might have been made. Is this because many astrologers are still acting as if they are involved in an exercise in divination? Is this a horary hangover, imparting the same limp passivity of the questioner who asks 'Will I succeed in this venture?' rather than 'How can I can make a success of it?'

The supine approach, from whatever direction it comes, is not worthy of the grandeur of astrology, which has so much to contribute to human happiness when it is allowed to express itself in its own terms. As to the nature of those terms, should we not expect a science of the heavens to point us to the heights?

A journalist for most of his life, Dennis Elwell has explored any byway that might throw light on astrology, leading to a study of science on the one hand, and occultists like Rudolf Steiner and Gurdjieff on the other. Teaching himself the basics as a teenager, he became a regular contributor to American Astrology; a platform for the leading astrologers of the day. The association continued for twenty years. He began lecturing to astrologers in 1963 and has subsequently gained an illustrious reputation as an original thinker and stimulating speaker.
In 1987 Elwell attracted considerable media attention through forewarning the shipping company P&O of impending disaster. Ten days after their reply, expressing complete confidence in their safety standards, the 'Herald of Free Enterprise' capsized of Zeebrugge with the tragic loss of 188 lives. His book Cosmic Loom, was published in the same year and was recently republished by the Urania Trust in an updated and expanded version.

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© Dennis Elwell

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This article was first published in the Sept/Oct 2004 edition of the Astrological Journal