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When Stars Collide  by Paul Westran

Book Review

When Stars Collide: Why We Love, Who We Love, When We Love Them
by Paul Westran

ISBN: 1905047746, paperback, 360 pages.
Published by O Books, (Deershot Lodge, Park Lane, Ropley,Hampshire SO24 OBE, U.K.), 2006.
Reviewed by Garry Phillipson

Available for purchase from
Price: 16.99/$22.95 (US)

This is a multi-faceted book, and it will take a while to describe its component parts. I should say at the outset, though, that Paul Westran's central theme - progressed synastry - is an original and powerful one, something that anyone with a serious interest in astrology should investigate. Regular readers of Mountain Astrologer will already be aware of this from Paul's article Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Hearts? in the Oct/Nov 2003 TMA.

'Progressed synastry' means looking at the synastry from a person's progressed chart to the natal and progressed charts of another person, and vice-versa. Working with this idea, whose only serious protagonist to date seems to be Robert Blaschke, Westran builds a compelling case that progressed synastry reveals a lot about the way relationships form, when they form, and what their dynamics may be.

The book begins, as you might expect, with an introduction to the basic idea of progressed synastry. This includes a salutary warning against thinking of ourselves as static entities, entirely defined by our birth charts. From there we move quickly on to examples, with the charts of Prince Charles, Diana and Camilla; Chris Evans and Billie Piper (from UK television); and Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon. This, he explains, is the tip of a celebrity iceberg - whereby hangs a tale which is a defining feature of the book.

In his research into the subject, Westran began looking at the beginning and ending of celebrity relationships as a way of testing progressed synastry. He eventually built up a database of 1,300 relationships. Since much of the data (both natal and the beginning/ending of relationships) came from biographies, popular magazines, websites and so on, the times of birth were frequently unavailable. This is undeniably a limitation, but since the main focus is on progressed movement after birth, it is one which is possible to live with.

At the end of Chapter 1, we discover how wide Westran is casting his net. By this point he has already introduced the basic idea, and illustrated it at work in five relationships (including his own). More cases of celebrity relationships will follow - a lot more - but not just yet. What comes next is an introduction to synastry (Ch.2), an introduction to progressions (Ch.3), a 'cookbook' section on the Sun, Venus and Mars through the signs (Ch.4), and an introduction to symbols and aspects (Ch.5), with the analysis of celebrity relationships reappearing at this stage in order to illustrate some of the themes.

I think Westran's aim with chapters 2 through 5 is to equip his work to be accessible to everyone, not just astrologers. Personally, I think that progressed synastry is just too complex and abstruse a subject to be taken on by many people without a solid background in astrology. But time will tell, perhaps in a few years this opinion will sound as short-sighted as Decca records turning down the Beatles in 1962. In any case, established astrologers will probably find themselves skipping fairly quickly through these chapters, as a lot of the material will be familiar.

Chapters 6 through 14 are then given over to looking at more relationships, except for Chapter 10 in which the author takes time out to consider how astrology might work. This is another chapter which is aimed mainly at the newcomer, sketching the case that conventional science is not equipped to be judge and jury in evaluating astrology.

All told, eight out of the book's sixteen chapters are given over entirely to biographical material - looking at how progressed synastry actually works out. On top of this, lots more biographies are used in other chapters to illustrate particular points. And this brings us to a major feature of the book - there are a lot of examples. I already mentioned the database of 1,300 relationships, which ranges from King Henry V to Gwyneth Paltrow. A hell of a lot of research has gone into this side of the book, and the chapters in which Westran discusses the waxing and waning of relationships in the lives of John Lennon, Elizabeth Taylor, Brad Pitt and many, many more would be worth the price of admission on their own.

I already mentioned that a good proportion of this birth data is untimed. Westran acknowledges (p.54-5) that the Moon should be an important factor in progressed synastry, but the lack of times for many of the charts he uses means that the Moon's position cannot be known with sufficient accuracy and he therefore says little about it. The same might doubtless be said of a few other points such as the progressed Ascendant, but this is a groundbreaking study and as such it can hardly be criticised for not already having a complete and detailed map of everything to do with progressed synastry. The main focus in fact falls on the progressions of the Sun, Mars, and most especially Venus which is described as "the prime mover and the most important element in synastry" (p.9)

The emphasis that Westran places on his database of 1,300 relationships brings us to another theme in this work. He says that "the secondary progressed horoscope [is] the most likely one to be amenable to certain types of scientific testing" (p.7) and refers repeatedly to his own statistical research. The real hardcore stats, however, are buried in the book's second appendix.

If probability shows anything, it is this: when an astrologer puts forward a hypothesis and calls for independent research into it, resounding silence will follow. I really hope this proves not to be the case this time. Westran's findings look to be the most interesting area of potential research to come along in astrology for a long time. He puts it this way: "We won't know for certain if the facts relayed in this book are revelatory of astrology or just of this astrologer until someone else looks at this idea, but I believe that we have only glimpsed a fraction of the bottom corner of the big picture of astrology at work." p.341

This is a hugely ambitious work, and although - for me - its ambition to be all things to all people doesn't quite come off, it has great strengths in the radicality of its central idea, and the painstaking research that Westran has subjected it to. In addition to this, he is a gifted writer and steers the reader through astrological theory and biography with an inventive and often amusing touch. I hope that this book meets with the success it deserves, because Westran's is an original and intelligent new voice in astrology. If you are interested in using astrology to understand relationships, this is essential reading for you.

Garry Phillipson
September, 2006