The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 194, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Steven Forrest
Episode originally released on February 22, 2019
Note: This is a transcript of an audio podcast. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which includes inflections that may not translate well when written out. Transcripts are created by using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and the text probably contains some errors and differences from the audio version. Please submit any corrections to Chris Brennan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcribed by Nicole Miller
Transcription released July 7th, 2019
Copyright © 2019 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
Chris Brennan: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and this is The Astrology Podcast. This episode is recording on Friday, February 15, 2019, starting at 7:34 AM in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 194th episode of the show. In this episode I’m going to be talking with astrologer Steven Forrest about the concept of reincarnation and its use in astrology. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and help support the production of future episodes by becoming a Patron, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe. Hey, Steven, thanks for joining me today.
Steven Forrest: I’m really happy to be here, Chris. Finally, after years of preparation.
CB: Yeah, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it; we’ve talked on and off at different points about doing something, but I’m glad it came together finally today for this early morning discussion. We’re both still waking up a little bit and having our morning coffee, but I’m excited about it.
SF: Yeah, me too.
CB: All right, so this is a topic that I’ve been wanting to have like a discussion about with somebody for years, and you are sort of one of the leaders- if not the leading astrologer I feel like that talks about this topic and has been engaged in discussions about reincarnation and its use and other things surrounding that in astrology for the past few decades. So I thought you’d be the best person to finally have on the show to have this discussion for the first time. So maybe I should start first though with a little biographical information, just in the off chance that any of my listeners don’t know who you are or what your background is. How long have you been studying astrology?
SF: Oh, you know, I have a facetious answer and then one that will make sense. I get the question a lot, and I say about 4,000 years.
CB: Okay. I like that. That’s a good way to start.
SF: And everybody thinks I’m joking.
SF: I actually think there’s- it’s some approximation of the truth. But my first memory as a little child- a little boy- was wanting a telescope so I could look at the heavens. And I actually entered astrology through very much what is, in contemporary terms, backdoor, amateur astronomy. I built telescopes and was obsessed with the scientific model of the heavens all through- really from the time I was 10 or 12 years old. And I found that looking through telescopes… it’s like I could quote the facts and the astronomy and the physics reasonably well for a 12-year-old. And yet, that left something out that I- it sounded too crazy to say but that the universe was alive. I was looking into something almost like the eyes of a friend when I would look at Jupiter or the moon or even distant galaxies. And eventually I just individuated enough to kind of separate from science class and allow myself to go with that intuitive feeling.
Meanwhile, I met a person I perceived as a woman. She was about 16- I was probably 13- and a woman from Germany who taught me the symbolism of palmistry. And your palms- there’s a plane of Venus and a plane of Jupiter; palmistry is organized intellectually in pretty much the same chassis that astrology is arranged in. By the time I got to being about 17, my astronomical interests and my interest in palmistry kind of converged, and I got my first astrology book.
CB: Okay. What was the book?
SF: It was a truly awful piece of work called Astrology for Teens by a woman named Angel Star. I suspect she was not born with that name. I was actually having my tonsils out at the time, so I was in bed for a couple of weeks; rather old for tonsillectomy, I was 17. My mother said, “Can I get you a book?” I said, “An astrology book.” She brought me that one I just mentioned. And as I say, it was awful, but I felt there was something to it. So I asked her for another, and then I got lucky. She gave me a paperback book by Joseph P. Goodovich called Write Your Own Horoscope. And I wouldn’t call it a deep work, but it was Mercury in Aries, Mercury in Taurus, Mercury in Gemini, and so on all through the planets. And I began to get a sense of how astrology was organized, and I never let go. I just read and studied obsessively for 20 years.
It was interesting; progressed Mercury was making a station around the time of the story I just recounted. And all the time it was retrograde, like 22 years or something, I’m reading astrology but feeling there’s something wrong with what I’m reading. And then mercury stationed again and went direct, and I got the contract to write my first book, The Inner Sky. It was like almost clockwork.
SF: And the first line of the first chapter of my first book was, “People change, and yet one assumption runs like a virus through contemporary astrology: people do not change.” And that was the key; just recognizing that describing somebody, which was the conventional astrological practice: “Here’s your personality. You’re a Scorpio, so you’re intense.” You know, that kind of stuff. It’s accurate enough, no quibble with it, but it was leaving out the fact that people grow. They evolve over time. And that’s really why I began to think of myself as an evolutionary astrologer. Not evolution over thousands of years but evolution this week as a result of an intense conversation you have with your partner, you know, for example.
CB: Right, so the idea that not just our personalities but the things in our lives that are indicated by the birth chart are in a growth or process-oriented state and that nothing is fixed and sort of determinant in a way that can’t be changed for the better in some way?
SF: Exactly, exactly. Trying to- I did a lecture at NORWAC once- just a keynote, a short one- that I liked the title. It was, “Beyond Description.” And the idea was: it’s tempting to bring astrology beyond the focus with describing people and into the realm of prescription. You know, encouraging people and supporting them in their evolution; how to become a better person. You’ve got Mercury in Scorpio, are you trashing all your friends with weaponized psychiatric insights, or are you helping your friends with insights that may be punchy but support them and leave you feeling good about yourself? And I feel like we can observe both of those behaviors in the population with Mercury in Scorpio. And the exciting thing to me is that the bad one can aspire to become the good one. And there’s an evolutionary pathway there, and so how do we prescribe and support evolutionary steps.
CB: Sure. And what was the context- I mean, so you get into astrology, and this is like the early ‘60s in the time period you’re talking about when you got into it, right?
SF: Late ‘60s, early ‘70s, yeah.
CB: Okay. And what became your primary works that you were drawing on? Like were you drawn immediately to works like Rudhyar and sort of like highbrow astrology like that? Or what were you focused on?
SF: The ones who spoke to me the most deeply were, well, let’s see. Charles E. O. Carter and Scottish astrologer, theosophical kind of influence; Ronald Davison, he meant a tremendous amount to me. Those were probably the two most influential. I read Rudhyar, Astrology of Personality, page by page, underlining, and at the end of it I still didn’t know what he was talking about.
CB: Right. I think that’s a common experience. Somebody else was just saying that that I interviewed recently as well.
SF: Yeah, I appreciate him more now, but at the time the English theosophists were speaking to me really good, the most loudly. Alan Leo, Sepharial- probably not as important to me as the two I mentioned. And then a little bit later, I was really helped a lot by Noel Tyl. He did a 12-book series, The Foundations and Principles of Astrology or something like that. I didn’t have much money in those days, but I saved my pennies and, with excitement, go to the bookstore and buy yet another volume and devour it. I’ve always appreciated him for that.
CB: Yeah. He has an approach to psychological astrology and counseling work, but he does it in a pretty concrete format- or straightforward format- like all things considered for something that’s more psychological in that way.
SF: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Yeah. All right, and you mentioned Alan Leo, and that’s a really important figure in terms of the discussion today because he seems like, in the Western tradition- that seems to be a turning point where he makes some pretty overt statements that reincarnation is like a core philosophical tenant that he believed was crucial for astrology. And up till that point that’s not like a common statement at all that you see made typically in the Western astrological tradition.
But it seems like from that point forward, starting with some of the theosophists in the late 19th and early 20th century, it starts becoming more and more of a common backdrop in terms of the philosophy of astrology, although maybe it’s not until later until your generation that there’s more of a desire from a technical approach to work out ways to actually talk about that in a more grounded sense. Do you feel like that’s true, or when you found some of the astrology that you inherited when you came into the field did it address that topic in a way that felt sufficient to you at the time?
SF: I absolutely honor and respect the work of those people who began to first mention reincarnation, the famous Newton’s remark about standing on the shoulders of giants comes to mind.
SF: Alan Leo, for example, as you say, really says we can’t understand our place in the universe without grasping the principle of evolution over lifetimes. He didn’t make much of a bridge between how to look at a chart and connect it with reincarnation; he just made the point that we should do that. And that was a breakthrough. There’s, of course, a long history of belief in reincarnation in various Western cultures. It’s an illusion to think of it simply as an Eastern belief. There’s evidence that the Celtic people tangling with the Romans had a belief in it, for example.
And then the Christian traditions- I don’t mean to bash them or anything- came to not accept reincarnation, although there was some controversy, and a few lines did get into the Bible that are quite suggestive of a preexisting acceptance of reincarnation. But essentially the dominant culture of the Western world for 1,500 years has been Christian and with an official turning away from the idea of reincarnation. And Western cultures seemed to- and Western astrology swept along with it- evolved in a way that didn’t include that; it sort of put it aside.
CB: Right, which is a little curious because we do find it in authors like Plato and like the Timaeus, there’s that famous story about- basically about reincarnation and about the souls like traveling to Earth and then choosing lives on the outskirts of Earth before being born, and that’s like a very prominent theme in Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy. Although it is curious that it still doesn’t necessarily- that may have provided a backdrop for part of the popularity of astrology and some of the spiritual or philosophical context for astrology in the ancient world, although we don’t have any discussions for the most part about astrology or reincarnation in any practical sense until we get to the modern period, at least in the West, with figures like Alan Leo.
SF: Yes. Yeah, I think that’s quite accurate. I don’t know the Vedic perspectives on that- how integrated reincarnation is into the Vedic system. Obviously, the Hinduism and Buddhism are all about it.
CB: Yeah, I mean we have in Hinduism the ideas of karma and reincarnation, and that provided a really rich philosophical backdrop for the practice of astrology, especially once natal astrology started being practiced in India from the 2nd or 3rd century forward at least and flourished there definitely. And that’s probably part of the reason for the popularity of astrology that maintained or persisted for much longer than it did in the West, where we’ve had so many starts and stops and breaks in the tradition.
CB: So it certainly was there, and then it seems like from the Indian tradition, which then influenced theosophy, where Madam Blavatsky was taking different threads and philosophical ideas from a bunch of different cultures, but Hinduism was one of them, that it sort of came in from there perhaps into the Western tradition through theosophy.
SF: Yes. Yes.
CB: So I guess that’s part of the historical context is that in the big scheme of things, on the one hand, we could agree that this is a relatively old idea philosophically, even in the Western tradition, but on the other hand, in the astrological tradition, a relatively- in the big scheme of things- new idea, in the sense that astrologers have only been talking about it for the past hundred years and maybe only in the past few decades really been trying to come up with techniques or developing ways of talking about it in a more real or practical sense of what that philosophy would mean in terms of chart delineations.
SF: Exactly. We’re looking at it precisely the same way.
CB: Sure. And I know once I asked you- because I was trying to research the nodes and specifically their associations with past lives and one’s future life because I was trying to trace back when they started being associated with past lives because I couldn’t- it was relatively recently it seemed, from everything I was reading, that they started gaining those associations, and one of the key texts seemed to be Martin Schulman’s book. And I think I asked you once, and you said that that was one of the early books that you read- relatively early in your studies- that was kind of influential on some of your views on the nodes?
SF: Yeah. He tended to take a very dark and gloomy view of things. We all look at the universe through the lens of our personalities, of course, and I don’t mean to dishonor him with that; he was tremendously helpful for me and was really I think the first one to just very straightforwardly say the fundamental meaning of the south node of the Moon is connected with your karma. It hadn’t been stated so clearly before.
CB: Right. Because I was able to trace it as far back as Rudhyar and like The Astrology of Personality in 1936, and it seems like it really starts, for the most part, with Rudhyar, who has this little section towards the end of The Astrology of Personality where he’s kind of looking at the symbolism of the nodes and kind of riffing on that and almost speculates at first that due to the increasing and decreasing nature that it almost has something to do with one’s past life or future life. And it starts out almost as a theory of Rudhyar’s there at that early stage, but then with Schulman it becomes more concrete as a specific delineation principle. And then from there it sort of grows and blossoms into this much more elaborate sort of approach that’s very much centered on the nodes today.
SF: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Stephen Arroyo should probably be mentioned in there too, his early work in the early 1970s overtly including reincarnation. It’s an interesting evolution watching the steps and, back to Rudhyar for a moment, what you’re saying is quite accurate. In reading Rudhyar’s work, his references to reincarnation seem almost shy. I would not characterize him as a shy man, but he’s wanting to kind of keep intellectual defenses around his plausibility as a Western philosopher in, roughly speaking, the mainstream and so didn’t want to be flakey, but he mentioned reincarnation as maybe a possibility, “Let’s be open minded,” but he never really fully embraced it.
CB: Okay. Yeah, because he was a theosophist, but he’s one of the big three theosophists- like founding astrologers of modern astrology, which are like Alan Leo and Marc Edmund Jones and Dane Rudhyar. But he was the one that was the most- he read much more broadly than that, and he was a little bit almost more tentative in his theosophy in some ways it seemed like.
SF: Yeah, exactly, exactly. That’s my point.
CB: Sure. So, yeah, I’m glad you mentioned Arroyo, so his book was Astrology, Karma, and Transformation, right?
SF: Yeah, I think that’s right, yeah.
SF: He had two or three books with three words in each of the titles, and I have juggled them over the years.
CB: Yeah, and I hope I didn’t misstate it just now, but that was an incredibly influential and popular book, so I’m glad you mentioned that because that’s continuously been reprinted and has influenced a lot of astrologers.
SF: Oh yeah. Yeah, it was quite important to me when I was young.
CB: So, the nodes then become a really important interpretative principle. They’re already associated to some extent- some basic level- with the idea of past and future lives. By the time you start working with them, do they become sort of the centerpiece of your astrology relatively early on, or at what stage in your career did that become much more central in terms of your approach?
SF: It gained momentum rather steadily from- I began my astrological practice, quit my day job and became a full-time astrologer–
CB: What was your day job, by the way? I always like to hear that; like I had a job as a barista, and that was my day job before I finally made the leap to being a full-time astrologer. So I’m always curious what different astrologers did.
SF: Served a very intense cup of coffee, right?
CB: I did, yeah.
SF: Well, I actually- this will sound better than it was, but- I worked for four or five years for the National Institute of Mental Health. I was employed on a research project by North Carolina State University, actually. I went to University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, but when I graduated I got a gopher kind of job with this big project, and, gradually, I befriended the people. They realized I could write well, and so I kind of became the staff writer. Actually, I- this is totally out of character- but back in the days when there was a computer in the research triangle area of North Carolina and punch cards and all that, I became pretty fluent with- I think- SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences), and I was able to help them with data analysis. And so I worked for them for a long time.
And it’s kind of an interesting story, Chris, because I correlated- this is malfeasance of your tax dollars confessed here on the air for the first time- I correlated people’s responses to a bunch of essentially psychological questions with their sun signs. I was able to- we had their birth dates; I couldn’t go further than that. But I was able to subdivide them into signs and cutting out all the people at the transitional days where you’re not sure if it’s the 21st or the 22nd and so on. So it was clean data, just based on sun sign.
And I was finding things like- here’s one illustration. If you walk into a room in which some of the people are strangers and some of them are people you know well, do you mostly talk to the people you know well, or do you try to meet people? And the Cancers: number one for just talking to the people that I know well in a statistically significant way. It was not great insights, but it was data supporting astrology.
And I was so excited about it, so I quit the job; I’m gonna write a book about this. It’s gonna change the world; you know, statistical evidence for astrology. New Evidence for an Old Art was the title I gave it. And I’m collecting unemployment insurance and turning my thermostat down to 45 degrees because I couldn’t afford to heat my home, writing on an electric typewriter knowing I was going to be a billionaire because I’m going to change the world. You know, I’m 27 or something. And of course, the book was widely rejected.
CB: You shopped it around to publishers, and nobody would take it?
SF: Exactly, to mainstream publishers. And one publisher wrote back in rejecting the book that, “The thrust of mainstream astrological publishing is egocentric, and I expect it to remain so.”
CB: I mean, they’re not wrong.
SF: Yeah, I know. I know. But–
CB: What year is this?
SF: — Too long a story, but that’s what broke me from working for the NIMH. And while I was doing that, I gradually began to build an astrological practice, which just skyrocketed. No book out, no fame, just a local hippie astrologer. But I was booked six months ahead, seven months ahead and making a good living at it. I never looked back after that.
CB: Right. That sounds like a pretty constructive almost Saturn return story then, if you were 27 going on 28.
SF: Yeah, it’s in a lunar return, Saturn return transition time for me.
CB: Got it. All right, and so astrology and reincarnation. I mean how big of a role is that playing in your astrology from that early stage of, let’s say like your first book, around that time frame versus how much did it become more of something that you became more confident as a core piece of your overall philosophy of astrology as time went on?
SF: It was huge right from the beginning is the truth of it. It’s interesting with The Inner Sky, my first book. My publisher, Bantam Books, at the time, pressured me to not make the book too spiritual. They kind of- almost funny in retrospect- they didn’t want me to use the word “soul” very much because they felt it would turn off their audience. And, of course, a few years later, we have Care of the Soul, and suddenly everything had the word “soul” in it. But they wouldn’t let me use that. They wanted me to downplay the metaphysics, and I was so excited to have a contract with Bantam Books, it was all, “Yes, sir. Yes, sir.”
But by the end of that book, I’m working with the chart of John Lennon, who was killed while I was writing the book, and he was important to me. And the last chapter of the book involves some karmic analysis of him; south node of the Moon in Aries in the Placidus 12th house that I use. So I was describing him as “the warrior who lost the war” in a past life, and it’s just one line, but the emotional impact and implications of being a warrior who lost a war, it immediately so expands into an understanding of his anti-war activities and “Give Peace a Chance” and all that. So it was right there in my first book.
CB: Okay. Yeah, I mean, it’s there in your first book, and it’s something that definitely grows and develops and becomes today. I mean, you’re primarily associated with a school of astrology or an approach to astrology that’s come to be known as evolutionary astrology. And I was rereading some parts of your book, Yesterday’s Sky, which came out in 2012, and you were trying to define what evolutionary astrology is. And it’s kind of tough, because you, on the one hand, you want to try to put a definition on it of some sort, but it also sounds like you want it to be a big tent where it doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific technical approach. Although at this point, it’s largely grown up or developed around your technical approach and the approach of your colleague, Jeffrey Wolf Green and his unique technical approach. But the two of you more or less have come to be associated with that term evolutionary astrology.
SF: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So, in terms of that, how do you define that? How do you define evolutionary astrology, or what’s your version of it, let’s say?
SF: I do like the big tent approach because it is so much a work in progress, and new people are adding to it all the time. But essentially, it’s the collision of ancient metaphysics, essentially modern astrology, and psychology, the great masterpieces of the 20th century. Psychology, ancient metaphysics, and astrology; where they converge, that’s evolutionary astrology. Where a psychologist, and doing therapy on a person, wants to know about your childhood, what experiences you had growing up and understanding how formative they are in terms of the glitches and challenges of adult life.
And an evolutionary astrologer will happily include all that but looks to the childhood of the soul, in terms of prior lives. Assuming that unresolved past life experiences have an impact almost exactly parallel to being beaten or loved in your family when you’re growing up. The impact is essentially identical. All that we’re doing is expanding the scale of time to include the notion of prior lifetimes.
CB: Sure. So I guess it’s like we have that basic premise of natal astrology: that a person is born, and the alignment of the planets at the moment of their birth will describe some things about their character, as well as their future life and some of the events or themes that might take place in it.
And there’s always been that question of: if this can accurately describe a person’s character, oftentimes in a psychological context, there’s the question of nature versus nurture and how much a person comes into a life with certain preset character traits versus how much those character traits are developed during the course of the life through family conditioning and environmental factors and things like that.
And part of the philosophical premise that you’re applying to it is that some of those character traits are not just being developed from that, from things that are happening in this life, but that there’s some prior life dynamics that are influencing and sort of echoing through into the current life, and that’s reflected in the birth chart somehow.
SF: Yeah, yeah. Exactly, exactly. It’s a good point that you’re making too. If we take a situation where somebody has an Aquarian moon conjunct Saturn, and an astrologer suggests, “Your mother was distant,” which is a possible interpretation of that, and let’s say the client: “Oh yeah, so that’s why my mother was distant, because my moon is in Aquarius conjunct Saturn.” Well, they correlate potentially, but you had the moon conjunct Saturn before your mother had a crack at you. If we just think about the order of things that the birth chart comes first, and people’s logic becomes fuzzy sometimes as they imply a causality, as if your mother caused you to have that configuration, when obviously it has to be the other way around.
As soon as we wrestle with that basic question, it’s like there are two logically defensible roads we can go down. Take your pick. One is: astrology is the law of the universe and, essentially a random universe, and the roulette wheel stops when you happen to take your first breath, and poof there’s your chart and here’s your personality. You’re the Energizer bunny, and you’re going to act out that personality until your batteries run down in a pointless, bleak universe. And maybe that’s true. Intellectually, one could defend that nihilistic perspective. The only other–
CB: That’s like determinism, is that what you’re defining?
SF: Well, I’m essentially referring to a nihilistic view that you have your birth chart for random reasons. Let me finish the point, it’ll be clearer.
CB: Okay, sorry.
SF: The second possible way of making sense of the simple fact that astrology works is that you have your chart for a reason. That there’s something purposeful about it. I’ve never met an astrologer who didn’t prefer that view over the nihilistic one, but as soon as we think there’s some purpose for having the chart, well why do you have that purpose? And logic demands that we are assuming preexisting conditions, effects follow causes, so something before you were born caused you to manifest as a person with an Aquarian moon conjunct Saturn, or whatever the configuration is.
Now I’m the first to say that’s a million miles from a proof of reincarnation. I wouldn’t represent it as that. But it’s proof that unless we want to accept nihilistic astrology, we have to assume that the chart points to mysteries before the birth, that we’re born with the nature for a reason. That is the foundation, philosophically, of my passion for this kind of astrology.
CB: Sure. Yeah, I mean, I think most astrologers could get on board with the idea that astrology seems to imply that there’s some sense of meaningfulness and purpose to our lives and to the events that happen and that the birth chart working at all seems to imply some sort of deliberateness about the events and the scope of one’s life.
SF: Yes, exactly. I’ve never met an astrologer who disagreed with that. I know many don’t like evolutionary astrology, and that’s fine, but I’ve never met one that preferred a random, nihilistic model of the universe.
CB: Yeah, I mean astrology just working in and of itself seems to immediately, not just beg the question, but almost demand to force you to recognize that there’s something bigger going on in the universe. And I think that even like metastrologers who did come into astrology with a much more modern- I don’t want to say scientific, like scientific’s not a good term for it- but broadly speaking, the idea- the prevailing scientific notion- that the universe is random and meaningless and that we’re just specks of organic matter that are floating around on a rock, and there’s no rhyme or reason to anything, astrology seems to present this weird, radically different, opposite view that there’s some meaning and purpose in our lives. And I think most astrologers are on board with that.
SF: Yeah, I think so too. I just jump in with your reference, which I sign happily, that there’s something bigger going on, your words. I want to press it a little bit harder and say: the fact that astrology works suggests there’s something previous going on, that there are causes that exist prior to you having a birth chart. Something- wheels were turning- in the context of something bigger, saying something previous carries us a little bit closer to the heart of what I’m saying.
CB: Sure, so we could definitely agree- because one of your points is that if the birth chart is true, then it’s indicating something about your life that’s going to happen in this lifetime that hasn’t developed yet is already indicated in the birth chart so that the birth chart has some- and this is another touchy subject- but some predictive potential, let’s say, about things that will take place in the life.
SF: Absolutely. Yeah.
CB: But also sometimes it’s describing things that were already set in motion before you were even born, such as your parents and their characters are sometimes reflected in the birth chart, or family dynamics or other things like that. So all astrologers for centuries would definitely agree with that.
SF: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
CB: So but your point here, and this is the opening that you’re making for the philosophical argument that you’re making, is that there’s more than that, that those dynamics that are in place at the moment of your birth are coming from something else, or there has to be some other reason that some of those dynamics are put in place already in the birth chart or something-
CB: That that is the result of, rather than it just being there for no apparent reason or something like that. That’s where you’re going with that argument?
SF: Exactly, exactly. That the chart has to point to the past somehow. Prior conditions that lead to the present birth chart. And we can look at that a lot of different ways. One could make a great reference to deoxyribonucleic acid, potentially, as somehow tied up with all of this. I’m emphatic about it not being a proof of reincarnation but a rather airtight proof that we can’t make sense of astrology without assuming that the chart refers to some kind of prior conditions or situations.
CB: Sure. Yeah, I think astrologers could accept that as a basic philosophical idea that there was something- I’m trying to think of a statement that’s general enough that all astrologers could be on board with that up to this point, and I’m having trouble formulating it.
SF: Good luck. Herding cats, famously.
CB: Right. But I mean your point at this point- this is where you would bring in some of those preexisting, long-standing, philosophical traditions. And it’s not just reincarnation though, but the other one that you bring in at this point is also the doctrine of, or the idea of, karma, right?
SF: Yes, oh yes.
CB: And you see that as being sort of intertwined with the concept of reincarnation so that the two can be differentiated or distinguished, but they’re still intertwined so that you can’t really remove one from the other?
SF: Yeah, precisely. Although the word karma is widely, widely misunderstood in Western civilization. There’s a kind of Judeo-Christian imprint on the popular use of the word karma. It’s an important point; let me say it briefly. So somebody stole my car; I guess I must have stolen somebody’s horse in a past life. The idea that I was bad in a past life, so I’m going to be punished now. And that’s a very Judeo-Christian, judging God, consequences for your actions perspective. But here’s something much closer to the way it actually works: I stole a horse in a past life. Hey, that works! A free horse. What’s not to like? So in this lifetime, I’m inclined to steal a car. Karma is basically habit. It’s a repetition compulsion.
Now, justice in the universe, the bad guys getting what they deserve: you see it occasionally, but it’s hardly a law of the universe. We might consider the present administration, although they’re abundant examples. Whereas, habit, the dominion of habit over our lives and our choices is easily demonstrated. It is so difficult for a person to break out of habitual patterns, even when they’re so evidently self-defeating. So karma is a law of the universe, but it’s habit, not crime and punishment.
CB: I mean, that’s a really important conceptual distinction that you’re making, because that then probably becomes the entire rationale for how you’re able to connect past lives and reincarnation with what’s reflected in the birth chart for this life is that if you’re assuming that the habits and that the things that a person will tend to gravitate towards doing in this life in terms of their personality and their actions are partially the result of repeated habits that they’ve built up over past lives and that’s your definition of karma, then that right there almost becomes the primary underlying metaphysical principle that’s operating in your philosophy, it would seem like.
SF: Bullseye. Exactly right. I can take it a little bit further. All the planets, as you know, have nodes- south nodes, north nodes- other than the Sun, of course. And those are interesting topics, but they’re not particularly central in my work; I’ve fiddled with them a little bit. But it’s the nodes of the Moon that play the critical role. Now it’s actually a key insight because- ask any astrologer, so what does the Moon mean? And you’re gonna hear emotions, feelings, attitudes; words like that will certainly arise. You can write a book about the moon of course. That’s the heart of it.
So here’s the key. Here’s where this goes: that when we die, the trauma of death and rebirth typically erases what we might call our Mercury memories. So, you believe in reincarnation, okay, what was your name in your last lifetime? People shrug their shoulders. We don’t remember the facts. So we forget our past lives; simple statement.
But here’s the level at which this is not true. At the emotional level, we remember them perfectly. The memories of the heart are robust and they survive the trauma of death and rebirth. Just to make this alive for you: there’s a little boy, seven years old, waking up his family every night with screaming nightmares that he can’t remember. Everybody thinks the kid’s a little crazy. Ten years ago, he died in a firefight in Fallujah, in Iraq, in a state of absolute horror. People are trying to kill him, he’s trying to kill people.
And then three years later, he’s reincarnated. And he doesn’t remember Iraq, but remembers fear. And so an attitude of fear pervades his life, and his incline towards hypervigilance, paranoia, nervousness, suspicion, insecurity. And it’s kind of beyond reason. It has nothing to do with the facts of his life, but the attitude, conditioned by the unresolved trauma in a prior existence is carried forward into the present life.
Now, we could look at that as one illustration of that phenomenon, and the technical language of astrology would be an Aries south node, with its war and conflict symbolism, which leads me to reference the north node of the moon, Libra in this case, and that the evolutionary future is trying to calm down, trying to find peace, serenity, equilibrium. Now this elaborates into the full text of Yesterday’s Sky which I will not repeat here. But where is Mars, if Aries is the ruler of your south node? Is Uranus square the nodal axis? How does it fit into the rest of the chart? It’s not just the nodes, but it’s centered on the nodes. And the south node is the emotional habit, the momentum of emotional habit, from unresolved traumatic prior life experiences. That’s it in a nutshell.
CB: Okay. Beautiful. And at this point though, we come to one of the central issues that I’ve already always run into with this, which is that I actually came into astrology through some New Age books that were by a regressive hypnotist, and it was talking about past lives, and that was my entry point into astrology. So then I came into the field and found websites like astro.com and started casting my birth chart under the premise that I thought when I was going to get into astrology, I could find specific information about past lives and find out who I was in a past life and what I did.
And one of the things that surprised me, though, that I didn’t expect, was when I learned astrology, it was much more general and psychological in its orientation, and the ability to make specific statements- that it was more archetypal in nature- and the ability to make specific statements was not typically very well developed, or it was not precise in the way that you expect or you assume astrology might be before you get into it. And that was the case even less so when it came to the ability of astrologers who did talk about past lives to talk about specifics, and that’s something, although you’re using the story about the little boy from Fallujah, that’s not necessarily something you would attempt to describe in detailed terms based on a birth chart, right?
SF: More or less right. There’s a line I will use when I’m sitting with a client. It’s a little funny, but it makes a serious point. When I get to the reincarnational part, I say, “I’m going to make a very bold claim here. I’m going to tell you a true story about a past life of yours.” And, of course, their eyes get a little wide. And then I follow it with a second remark, “But in this true story, I am going to invent all of the facts.” And, of course, people laugh. But then I make the point that any novel worth reading is full of made up facts, but somehow they tell you a truth about life.
So these are parables. I do not claim that we can see you died in a firefight in Fallujah, but I do claim that we could see, “It sure looks like you experienced violence and imaged yourself as a victim in the context of the violence. And I can say that, and that’s clear enough, but so I can speak to your heart as well as your intellect, I’m going to tell you a story.” And that engages the heart. So I always try to be very clear about that.
CB: Sure. I mean, how do you know, or how do we know, then, that in describing that and describing the emotional dynamics of the person and some things that are clearly—because they’re in the birth chart or clearly prominent themes for them in this life—how do we know for sure that those are themes that they definitely experienced in a previous life versus just being things that somehow developed more locally, like in their current life?
SF: Yeah. I think it’s a fair point, and ultimately, we cannot be sure. It would be possible that some traumatic experience that did not have a prior life precedent arose early in this life, or even contemporary in this life, and leaves a mark on the soul. We have to be wide open to that.
CB: I mean, because that’s something you’re addressing, obviously, in your consultations, as someone with a psychological astrologer background just to begin with, is you’re not just focused on past lives, but you’re genuinely, I’m sure, curious and talking about the person’s early life and their formative experiences.
SF: Yes, exactly, exactly. And there’s such a—in my practice, I know I’m known as the guy who talks about your past lives in the astrology conferences and so on.
SF: In my daily life, my serious teaching, it’s very much in the present tense, you know. Okay, here’s this stuff that you have. I think it came from a past life—who knows where it came from. But here it is; it’s on your plate. This is what it looks like when you’re crazy. And here’s maybe a better way of handling that—present tense. And so the focus is very much on supportive counseling in the moment rather than an amazing magical mystery tour of your past lives. I should be clear about that because I know the reputation that surrounds me kind of misses that point a lot of the time.
CB: Sure. Well I mean that’s probably what people look for or think about, and sometimes—like I did when I came into the astrological community. And for some reason, I didn’t come across and didn’t actually stumble across your work or the other evolutionary astrologers’ work until years later, otherwise I would have been very much interested in that and would’ve dived right into that at that stage.
But, yeah, I guess I just wanted to make that point because I was always interested, and I found your—because you’ve actually been in the front lines of not just having this as part of your personal philosophy but also sometimes in the place of defending it to other astrologers. And sometimes there’s been debates in the community about if one adopts this philosophy, what’s ethical versus what’s not ethical in terms of consultations or whatever, since astrologers are always both debating and sometimes squabbling over sometimes very important issues and other times just kind of squabbling with each other.
But I liked—I’ve always appreciated, and even though I’m not somebody as I grew and developed more as an astrologer that came to focus a lot on ideas of karma and reincarnation as part of my philosophy, I always respected the way that you talked about and engaged with in that sort of debate and presented your philosophy, not as something that was very dogmatic but as something that seemed more reasonable and that you were trying to be very reasonable about it and the way that you were presenting it and in the way that you’re sort of putting yourself forward as a professional astrologer at the same time with the underlying goal to help people.
SF: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. That’s what it’s all about—helping people. You said so much there, and I really—
CB: Yeah, sorry for rambling.
SF: Well no, it was terrific. I mean it positively. So many ways I could respond to this. One of them: the idea—sort of wistful idea— that perhaps you would become my student ten years ago—
CB: Yeah, I’m sorry, but that honestly—because that would’ve probably, in all honesty, happened, if I’d found you in the early 2000s, but I ended up going to Kepler, and of course, getting interested in ancient astrology through Demetra. But, you know, in another lifetime.
SF: Yeah, yeah. Exactly, exactly. And I was—I’m feeling the dharma, to use the Buddhist word, the rightness of you being in the world you’re in now, in Hellenistic astrology, creating the renaissance of all of that—which I do not claim to understand, but I have an instinctual respect for those traditions. Intelligent humans, you know, working out this system before they had clocks! I mean, it just blows my mind. Like, God! You’re able to help people as astrologers without clocks. You know, I’m in awe! That’s brilliant to have figured that out.
SF: And so in my garage, I have all of those paperbound books that came out when the three Robs were first doing Project Hindsight and all of that. I never claimed to have understood them.
CB: So you’re one of the astrologers that supported the project in the 1990s.
SF: Absolutely! Yeah, yeah. Literally two or three boxes of those books. But there’s a difference between having a book and reading a book and a difference between reading a book and understanding the book.
SF: And this is, again, the word wistful comes to mind—when I was a young astrologer, I was obsessed with reading astrology. I have a feeling a lot of parallels between you and I in our 20s. Just can’t get enough of this stuff, diversity, different approaches. And then as my practice took off… I’ve had a tiger by the tail for 40 years, basically, with the teaching and the writing and the clients. And I work a typically 50 or 60 hour week just kind of keeping up with everything.
CB: Right, are you still booked out like a year in advance with consultations? Or how far is it?
SF: I have my local face-to-face work, which I try to protect, and then recorded readings which I send. The face-to-face work is about two years out, the recordings are about four years. It’s gotten insane. And people—all my kind of conservative side friends will say, “Just raise your fees!” But I’m already 350 bucks for a two-hour reading. I don’t want to be higher than that. I don’t want to become that exclusive. So it’s—my strategy for dealing with this is to eventually die.
CB: Sure. That’s a good approach, I like that.
SF: It’s reliable, and I’m a Capricorn; I like to be reasonable. So the point I’m making is: this renaissance in various forms of ancient astrology (Hellenistic, and literally Renaissance astrology, and so on) has been happening right under my nose, and I just haven’t had time to dive in and learn it. And I love having the opportunity to say this, because the fact that I’ve not incorporated those techniques could be construed as me resisting or rejecting or something like that, but I’m very much a big tent guy with astrology. In fact, a mystery beyond the capacity of the human intellect, to wrestle with it, is “Why the heck does Hellenistic astrology, Vedic astrology, evolutionary astrology, et cetera—why do they all work when they contradict each other in so many ways?”
And it’s—I know there are people who want the universe to be very three dimensional, push and shove, Isaac Newton clockwork, and they often get very angry about this; making fun of the Vedic astrologers would be one contemporary illustration. Not me. I just sit here in awe of, “Oh my God, what is this thing that we’re doing when so many languages seem to contradict each other and yet point to the same truth? Wow.”
CB: Right, and I was thinking about this recently though, because sometimes you—although I would love the way that you formulate, and you’re often very open to other approaches and things—you sometimes do have strong opinions about certain things, especially in astrology when it comes to things that you think might be harmful or problematic in a consulting setting–
SF: Yeah, yeah.
CB: And I often wondered though—I almost feel like you might have more of a harder edge to you at this stage in your career if you hadn’t had some of the run-ins that you’ve had with debates in the community where people have attacked your own approach and tried to criticize it, and some of that may have made you different at this stage in your career than you would’ve been if you never had any of that opposition. Like, is that true? That’s just a speculation that I had recently, but I don’t know if–
SF: Yeah, it’s very true, it’s very true. So, my Scorpio to yours, not to ignore the elephant in the living room, so to speak; the war between Glenn Perry and myself was rather famous many years ago. And he set up—my opinion, obviously—he set up a straw man, and he attacked it. Very successfully. The straw man, Steven Forrest, says you can look at a chart and tell people explicit details about their past lives, and hey, nobody can prove him wrong, he can’t prove himself right, so it’s bogus.
Now, I never said that, and anybody who did say you can see specific past life details is wrong. Glenn was absolutely right about it. But he convinced a large part of the astrological community for a while that that’s what I was doing. And it hurt really badly.
And around that time, my work was taking off in a huge way; my apprenticeship programs—a couple thousand people had passed through them by now. I just left the community. It just wasn’t worth being there and dealing with that kind of negativity anymore. I didn’t attack the community, but I was essentially—I don’t want to say driven out of it; I chose to leave it. I just didn’t need that in my life. It was more of a drain than a positive thing. And recently, they’ve stood up to him, and I think that’s been very healthy. My respect for the community’s ability to take care of itself has increased enormously in the last year or so because of all that.
CB: Right, because you used to be much more involved in the community, and in the late 90s and early 2000s, you’re actually involved in some of the organizations that were putting together ethical guidelines for astrologers, for what was like appropriate versus not appropriate, especially in the context of consultations. But that became the focal point of sort of the dispute, to a certain extent: was evolutionary astrology and reincarnational thinking, as applied in an astrological consultation, appropriate, or the charges that were being laid against it were that it was unethical somehow in some way?
SF: Exactly. Glenn Perry had written actually pretty good ethical guidelines for ISAR, kind of put it out there. But it included the idea that references to prior lives were unethical unless we said kind of for entertainment purposes or speculative purposes or something like that.
CB: So you’d have to like completely disavow it basically in each consultation and then proceed to talk about it and do it.
SF: Exactly. And so I was commissioned—it was, let’s see, Dorothy Oja and Mari Biehn, and Mark McDonough, and Matt Carnicelli and myself. The five of us for probably three or four years on the phone constantly rewriting these various ISAR ethical guidelines to come up with a code that allowed various astrological practitioners and traditions to feel comfortable and included in the community, rather than condemned because they weren’t doing modern psychological astrology in a very narrow way.
CB: Right, so you guys were trying to be inclusive of like all astrologers and all the different practices and everything and create an ethical code—which, this was a big deal because it didn’t exist up until this point; the astrological organizations were just now developing ethical guidelines, and you were there at the ground level working on this.
SF: Yeah, exactly. And it’s still very important to me. I mentioned my strong opinions sometimes; somebody uses a different house system than me, God bless us, one and all. I have an opinion about what works for me, but I don’t need to force that on anyone.
But when an astrologer hurts somebody, that crosses a line. “Uranus is about to enter your seventh house; you’re going to get a divorce.” You know, that kind of astrology? That’s damaging! Because Uranus enters somebody’s seventh house, and there probably is a need to, if you’re in a marriage, to renegotiate it; make a little more Uranian space for yourself. So there probably will be some tension, which a good astrologer can cast light on. But then an unethical, fortune-telling astrologer says, “You will get a divorce,” and it kind of rings true to a person who is facing uncertainty and change in the marriage. And so it insidiously—such a prediction can be destructive.
When we did that panel at the last UAC, “Is Prediction Killing Astrology?”, I think it was kind of a sweet moment for me in that I’ve always liked you but haven’t known you that well. And I was thinking, “Oh, this is going to be when me and Chris, you know, we’re really going to get into it.” And I found that there was nothing you said that I was uncomfortable with. And I kind of had the feeling that there was nothing I said that really made you terribly uncomfortable. I may be wrong about that, but–
CB: No! It was a great discussion.
SF: Yeah, I thought so. And… the ethics underlying the practice of Hellenistic astrology or evolutionary astrology—the fundamental ethical principles are human, they’re not astrological. First, do no harm; it would be a good place to start. I can’t imagine any conflict about that.
CB: Yeah, I mean your recurring theme in your astrology and in your philosophy of counseling astrology is that you really don’t like overly specific—you really focus on archetypal statements of astrological placements, which are broad enough that they do not create an overly constraining delineation of a specific prediction of an immutable result that will happen in the person’s life, no matter what they do, and doesn’t leave any room for alternative outcomes or for them to do anything differently. And you really push back against that very strongly as something that you object to.
SF: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s a core theoretical reason for that that it’s in working with, let’s say transits. I might say that it is your fate—I rarely use the word—but it is your fate to experience certain archetypal fields, certain questions, and certain possibilities now. And that’s not general, I can be quite specific about those archetypal fields, et cetera. How you’re going to respond to them is a function of your consciousness, rather than something we can attribute completely to the planets. Life as we experience it is at the interface of consciousness and these astrologically determined archetypal fields. We cannot leave out either factor to understand how life works.
CB: Sure. And so that’s why you’ll delineate something like you were just mentioning Uranus transiting through the seventh house and give a list of different scenarios or psychological or character manifestations as possibilities but ultimately leave it up to them and say that it’s up to them explicitly so that the delineation ultimately is open-ended in some sense, rather than overly specific and predictive in a narrow sense.
SF: Yeah, exactly. Put the responsibility on the client rather than on the planets. There it is in a sentence.
CB: Sure. So it’s almost ironic then that you were accused of doing the opposite, which is making overly specific statements about the past rather than the future. And I could see then why perhaps you would push back very strongly against that since, in some ways, a core underlying thing of your astrology is to talk about it archetypally and in broad terms rather than in overly specific ones. And that’s true not just of your statements about the future but also in terms of your statements about the past.
SF: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. It was an astute observation, and the irony was not lost on me, but I wound up being sort of hoisted by my own petard but against my will.
CB: Right, yeah. But despite that and despite you being, I don’t want to say—run out of the community might be stating it a little strongly, but I’m sure on some level you felt that way because you weren’t necessarily—there weren’t tons of people like rushing to your defense at that point. But instead you were having to sort of fight some of that battle, or defend yourself, on your own.
So you ended up pulling back from the community so that by the time I was actually starting to get involved in the astrological community, I had never known that you had been involved in the astrological organizations as much as you had because you had pulled back by that point. But in pulling back, you ended up focusing your energy on your practice and on your teachings of students and on writing. And evolutionary astrology has become one of the most dominant schools, I feel like, in modern contemporary astrology at this point over the course of the past couple of decades.
SF: Yeah, definitely. There was one thought or perception I had at the time was that the—this is a little bit apples and oranges—but my apprenticeship program, if we count that by the number of people who attended and kind of been through it and gotten certified, my apprenticeship program was actually considerably larger than ISAR.
And it’s not a competition, but when the general suck out of my life connected with all the politics in ISAR, I began to ask questions, given the fact that a day is just 24 hours long, about why am I here? Why is it important for me to be heard here when I can work much more efficiently and be heard by a wider audience by putting my energy elsewhere? I was not comfortable with that because the organizations are important; I really never want to come across as being against them. But I’m a sensitive guy, and it was just getting too painful to be there. It was a very personal decision. It sucked; I didn’t like it anymore. And so I stopped going.
CB: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think it’s important because it was an interesting and critical debate in the astrological community—an intense one, but it was an interesting one in terms of probably providing a framework for how other types of debates might go about different things in the future and hopefully as a community learning something about it about how to do them constructively versus not. And sometimes you run into issues like that that can be really delicate and really hard to resolve.
But sometimes when astrologers feel that they disagree with another astrologer, sometimes there’s almost too much of a quickness to label what they’re doing as unethical, or there’s a tendency to jump to that sometimes a little bit too quickly and not see the sort of genuineness of the other person’s approach, which can sometimes be important if they’re at least approaching it from the perspective of not harming the client and of genuinely having the client’s best, not intentions, but their best needs in mind.
SF: Yeah, exactly. That’s the orbit of ethics, as far as I’m concerned. “If whole sign houses are not as ethical as placidus houses,” it’s like give me a break. That’s not an ethical question.
CB: Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I mean, astrologers immediately jump there because they usually develop the idea that, “My approach that I’ve developed works and, therefore, must be true; and, therefore, if someone’s doing an approach that’s different from mine significantly, what they’re doing must not be true” is sometimes their automatic assumption. But sometimes that starts leading into a dangerous area when they start going that route because then, if it’s wrong, then it might be dangerous, and it might be unethical and yadda yadda yadda, instead of sometimes just comparing and contrasting views and trying to understanding genuinely where the other person is coming from.
SF: Exactly, exactly. Very well said.
CB: Sure. So, back to that question about the ethics and the practical application of applying the philosophy or philosophical concept of reincarnation to astrology: you’re applying it in a general archetypal sense and assuming that the present life dynamics are carried over, at least in part, from prior lifetimes. But it seems like one of the rules that you’re bringing along with that, that maybe you’re stating somewhat strongly, is that it must be interpreted archetypally speaking, or broadly speaking, and not necessarily in specifics in terms of making specific statements. Do you go so far as to make that an ethical rule or guideline? Or how strongly do you actually phrase that in terms of those within your school?
SF: Very strongly, that we would never leave consciousness out of the equations. Period. And that consciousness will determine the concrete manifestation of any astrological configuration. The configuration offers you a menu, and then consciousness will choose what it’s going to eat off of that menu, so to speak. Obviously, it’s hard work, and it’s not just a question of pointing at the smartest choice, but as we struggle with our lives, we can make higher and higher responses to these things.
CB: Sure, and I understand that that’s true for future, this life, predictions that haven’t happened but for past life ones to the extent that there’s the assumption that that’s already taken place—and the element of choice is taken out of that, since it’s unnecessary, since it’s something in the past—does that allow you then to narrow or collapse that down a little bit so that maybe you’re more willing to make more specific past life statements in narrowing down the archetype than you would be like a future prediction?
SF: Yeah, yeah. Your exact phrase, “to narrow it down a little bit,” is absolutely—could’ve come out of my own mouth. Narrow it down a little bit, not all the way. But here’s the very specific filter through which we look at the south node dynamics: we assume that something went wrong there; the simple notion that it wouldn’t be your unresolved karma had it gone right.
CB: You treat the south node as a sort of deficiency in some sense?
SF: Yeah, “it’s a damage to our attitude” would be a very simple way of putting it, that arose typically as a result of circumstances that—well, when I’m teaching this formally, I say the south node, unresolved karma, there are four possible mix-and-match frameworks: 1. Something you got wrong in a past life. No shortage of mistakes, but they have consequences. 2. Something you got right in a past life but sustained damage in the process of getting it right. Sometimes our virtues come at a terrible price; you did the right thing at great expense.
The third possibility: tragedy struck you. Nobody’s fault; not yours, not anybody else’s, but you’re sailing across the ocean to the New World, and the ship sank. That’s going to affect your attitude in the present life. You’re afraid present ships will sink; nobody’s fault, but there it is: damage. Fourth, evil. There’s a darkness in the world, and when evil touches you in any way, coming or going—you partook in it, you were a victim of it—that’s going to leave a mark on your soul too. So those four, and it’s possible to mix them up, and maybe all four are activated. But every one of them contains a negative or damaging component.
And so we look at the south node, like any symbol in astrology—spectrum of possibilities—but we filter them in a bias toward the negative. And so we narrow it down a little bit, maybe we narrow it down a lot, but ultimately, I’m going to make up a true story about your past life; I repeat that again. I don’t know what the facts are, and there would be different possible interpretations of any nodal configuration, just like in any present chart. But we can be specific enough to be helpful, and that’s really the bottom line.
CB: Right. And because astrology ultimately is archetypal, and reading positions in the birth chart is an exercise in symbolic reasoning and broad archetypal interpretation, what you’re seeing in the chart is archetypal dynamics, and sometimes that allows for a range of specificity, but it’s still not—you’re not looking at the chart like looking into a crystal ball and seeing exactly what a person’s past life was, and how old they were, and what color their eyes were, or something like that, just in the same way that when you’re looking at astrology for the future to make, broadly speaking, let’s say a prediction, you’re not looking into a crystal ball and seeing exactly what’s going to happen in 30 years in the person’s life, and who exactly they’re going to be dating, or what have you.
SF: Right, right. Exactly, exactly. It’s sad how many astrologers are obsessed with the crystal ball model. And, having been in this field for so long, it’s one of those laugh or cry situations where somebody makes a prediction: “This is what’s going to happen: the stock market is going to hit this number.” And they’ve made 200 such predictions in the past. None of them worked. And then they get one that works, and they write an article tooting their incredible ability to see the future.
And they got it right, but we look at the rigid astrologers who claim to be able to see the future, “I know what’s going to happen, I know what choices you are going to make,” those astrologers, and we look objectively at their results, and we find we can’t dismiss them entirely. There’s something going on that may be right sometimes, a little more than chance would dictate, but they sure are wrong a lot. Humans make monkeys out of those astrologers with creativity and intelligence and love and charity and all the basic virtues. We can make a monkey out of the crystal ball astrologer.
CB: Sure, and I know that’s one of your hobby-horses about astrology and prediction, and I have to push back a little bit in saying: I mean, surely even you and your approach recognize the predictive potential, even in broadly archetypal terms, of things like the Saturn cycle, the 30-year Saturn cycle, and looking at the hard aspects of Saturn and watching those dynamics play out over and over again and being able to at least anticipate, combined with just seeing the astrology in the trajectory of a long-term cycle like that and its natal position in the chart with understanding the person’s history and life trajectory up to this point by talking with them and that the union of those two things of the person’s astrological cycles with knowledge of their life, can sometimes give you the ability to make reasonable inferences about where they’re headed in the future.
SF: Oh, yeah, yeah. I have no trouble accepting that. I loved your last term there, “reasonable inferences.”
SF: And with knowledge of astrology and knowledge of the person and his or her history, which can be very helpful and the past often predicts the future and throwing in astrological knowledge, we can often infer what is likely to happen, and it turns out to be accurate. I’d never argue against that. I just always prefer to leave room in the equations for higher possibilities. The person who has always screwed up in a delusional fashion, and Neptune is about to conjunct their sun—okay, well get ready for another delusional screw-up. If I had to guess what was going to happen, my life depends on it, that’s what I would predict, and probably I’d live to predict again the next day.
But in my practice, that’s not what I want to do. I want to do a sit with that person and say, “You have a history of delusional behavior, and the perfect storm is setting up for you again here. And be careful. I think maybe you can do better this time; I’m not saying you will, and I don’t know what you’re going to do, but your future is in your hands. And here’s a higher possibility with this Neptune: you need to turn that energy into, for example, some kind of spiritual practice.”
I’m not going to hand them Jehovah’s Witness literature but just to speak very simply the idea that this energy—it is your fate that this energy is going to manifest in your life now, and your history suggests how this is going to manifest, but can we get a word in for other possibilities? And here we can prescribe a different way of rising to this and handling the energy differently.
One more quick comment here: I love when I’m teaching, or even doing clients’ work, I love to quote the most basic principle in physics, which is, “Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only changed in form.” It can’t put science into English more effectively than that sentence. And astrology is ultimately part of that scientific universe; we just haven’t stretched our paradigms enough to see it.
And so the energy of your chart has been created. There it is; you’re standing there. And so it can’t be destroyed. One thing the symbols in your chart cannot do is nothing. They can’t go, “Poof! I’m not going to bother you anymore.” They will manifest, but they can be changed in form. And what changes the form of the manifestation is consciousness or, potentially, the lack of consciousness. I never want to come across as kind of New Age-y, happy face, “Pluto’s conjuncting your Sun, lucky you!” I don’t want to play games like that, but I always want to honor this God-given power to work with these energies.
CB: Yeah, I mean, and that actually raises a question: To what extent, or are you ever concerned that sometimes, in the desire to be empowering by leaving people the option of introducing ideas like levels of consciousness dictating some power over the individual in being empowered to choose the outcome of certain transits or certain placements in their life in the future, that sometimes it might accidentally do the opposite and make them feel [worse]? [For example,] if they still end up having a bad experience from a transit or a natal placement, that it is somehow their fault, and that if they had only been more evolved or wiser or something that that negative event wouldn’t have happened to them. So that accidentally it ends up being not what was intended in terms of being helpful or giving the person a greater sense of empowerment, but instead maybe makes them feel insufficient in some way?
SF: Yeah, that’s a very serious point; I respect it. I strive, of course, like any good astrologer, to first: do no harm, but I’d be the first to say that this deeper kind of astrology is very high-voltage work, and it’s right in people’s faces. Here’s your journey, here’s your craziness, here’s your soul. And I’m sure I’ve hurt people; I’m absolutely confident that the error and the danger you described that I’m guilty of it. My only defense would be that taken as a body, I think my work has been far more helpful than harmful. But I think it’s impossible to hold the mirror of truth before someone and guarantee that they’re not going to use it in a self-sabotaging way.
CB: Sure, and I was just saying that in terms of—do you feel like sometimes there are events that are truly outside of the person’s control—and it’s not necessarily a result of them not doing the right thing—that something, let’s say, unpreferable or tragic or hard, occurred or happened to them?
SF: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That’s part of the reality. And we’ll find Pluto transits, progressions, through the eighth house—Scorpionic involvements—will often correlate with tragedy in a person’s life. Pluto—I’m a middle Capricorn; Pluto has just finished crossing my Sun, and I lost my mother; 96 years old. We loved each other. It’s about as good as it gets, but there’s a death coinciding with Pluto. And then this actually hurts me a little more: my nephew, the nearest thing to a son I’ve ever had, my sister’s son, killed himself—shot himself. And there’s Pluto crossing my Sun.
My consciousness has some power in terms of how I absorb that fact, how I field it. Do I decide the universe is horrible and bleak and dreadful, and we should all shoot ourselves, which would be a possibility, or do I find forgiveness in my heart towards my nephew for what he did to himself but also to our family? These are hard questions, and it was my fate—and I’m not totally adverse to using the word—it was my fate to experience that loss in that moment, that Plutonian tragedy. But my freedom lies in how I respond to it. Does that make sense to you?
CB: Yeah, definitely, in terms of internally. Do you have any concerns about people using—like sometimes in India, for example, there’s been drawbacks sometimes with concepts of karma and reincarnation and perhaps it being used to reinforce negative conditions in the person’s life or for a person to think that if they’re experiencing something bad, it’s that they deserve it from something they did in a past life or something like that.
SF: Yeah, exactly. That’s toxicity. I would never want to leave a person with that kind of impression. And I think that there’s—you’re probably sensing there’s a fairly elaborately defined philosophical and ethical basis to evolutionary astrology. And I’ve been, you know, I wake up in the morning doing it. And so those principles, I don’t have to think about them; they’re implicit in the work. And they’re kind of self-correcting relative to the excessive guilt or sense of doom or anything like that. There’s always, always, an emphasis on the higher ground and how to get there.
And I should add—quite relevant to what we’ve been talking about: there’s a line I love to use, “Your birth chart is the soul’s lesson plan.” And I immediately smile because everyone hears that, they nod their heads; you just nodded your head. It’s like, “Mhm, yeah, the soul’s lesson plan.” It’s almost a cliché. And then I say, “Let’s look at that rigorously: why do you need lessons?” And the answer is never particularly flattering; you need lessons where you’re ignorant. You don’t need to learn something that you’ll already know.
Therefore if the birth chart is the soul’s lesson plan, your birth chart—here’s the corker: your birth chart represents everything wrong with you. And all the New Age people hit the ceiling. And then I finish the sentence, “And how to fix it.” Everything wrong with you and how to fix it. To me, in one sentence, that’s about the most rigorous description of how astrology has presented itself to me. There’s humility and a triumphant affirmation of human potential built into it.
CB: Yeah, that’s the humanistic side of astrology of like mid- to late-20th century astrology and how you’ve merged that—I mean your astrology really is the merging of late-20th century humanistic psychological astrology with the philosophical and spiritual and religious ideas of the theosophical tradition from the early 20th century in the full union and synthesis of those two threads.
SF: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Yeah. All right–
SF: I had an interesting conversation—it was actually recorded—with Robert Hand, who’s a very different astrologer, but he’s been a good friend of mine for a long time. And he was making a point that it referenced to traditional forms of astrology about how by the 19th century, astrology had been so drained of its soul and its essence and down to its bones, and I had no argument against that.
But I said: this little river of a few core astrological principles managed to survive into the 20th century in beleaguered form, and then the river of modern psychology joined that trickle. And then the integration of more or less Eastern metaphysics, with mainstream Western thinking, another river; and so modern astrology, at least evolutionary astrology, was revitalized by integrating the ancient metaphysics and the psychology. And it became something new; astrology reinvented itself. And so I was honoring his point about the losses, but I also want to put it in the context of something new has been created based on the little trickle from the past.
And not to say one is better than the other, but I guess that’s the whole point; I’m saying, “Rob, don’t say the old stuff is better than the new stuff.” The new stuff has its own pedigree, and it’s a little bit different, and astrology has been incredibly resilient through history and reinventing itself over and over again. And it’s happening now—the amazing thing now is that instead of one mainstream kind of astrology, we now have astrologies. You go to an astrology conference, and I don’t know if this is good or bad. I go to a Hellenistic lecture—I don’t know what they’re talking about. Or I go to a Vedic one; I don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m not proud of that, but it’s just the truth.
When I was a younger astrologer, I’d go to a conference, and everyone’s speaking more or less the same language, so I had a good basis for arguing with people. Now I can’t even argue anymore because I don’t know enough. We have this tower of Babel phenomenon. At first it worried me a lot. It’s like how could we ever have a code of ethics or standard licensing of astrologers, if that were a good thing, because nobody can agree on what astrology is. And for a while, I was upset about it, and now it just kind of puts a smile on my face. It’s like, let’s surf the waves of chaos. This is something we can’t control, and hallelujah, God bless us all, and onward through the fog.
CB: Right. Yeah, it is something I’m curious to see how that works out over the next few decades as we have all these new traditions, and the field is much more diverse than it’s been maybe at any other time in history, and what will come out of that and what sort of—will there be a synthesis of that or will there be just continuing and expanding diversity of some sort? I guess we’ll find out at some points.
SF: You’ll find out, I don’t know that I’ll live long enough. I think it will probably take your span of years—probably span of years in the world—for this to settle out. There’s so much momentum in these different traditions now, and I just try to beat the drum for mutual respect, harmony, and some degree of dialogue, but mostly mutual respect and harmony.
CB: Yeah. Well that is what—that was our goal here today, and I think we accomplished that. And that’s part of what having conversations like this is about for me is having all these discussions, and then the people listening to it I think especially and being exposed to all these different ideas will naturally incorporate different pieces that speak to them and from that will create some sort of synthesis.
Just to go back to something you were saying: one thing I’ve thought about the history of astrology is that that break in the tradition that Rob talked about in the 18th and 19th century I feel like was almost necessary in order for modern astrology to reconstitute itself in such a radically different way and such a radically different orientation that there was almost a necessity to have that break so that it could bring in some of that new energy and some of those changes.
And it’s fascinating that there’s a few different schools of astrology, or types of modern astrology, that developed as a result of that, and yours is one of them. I mean others are things like Rick Tarnas’s school, which is more of a modern archetypal astrology, and it doesn’t have the same sort of philosophical or spiritual backdrop, but it has some similar elements in terms of the psychological focus or the archetypal focus.
SF: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Beautiful work.
CB: Yeah, but there wasn’t as much—it’s interesting in the history of astrology, if you go back through the philosophical and religious stuff, that astrology has been much more practical in its orientation for most of the ancient traditions, even in the traditions like in India or ancient Greece, there were much more practical questions about this life. And at least as far as the text that survived, there’s not a lot of discussion about the philosophical meaning or implications of all of this.
And that’s an interesting element that has happened in 20th-century astrology, and an interesting thing that your astrology represents is the attempt to bring and try to answer some broader philosophical and metaphysical questions with astrology and bring those to the forefront in the discussion, rather than purely focusing on the immediate life questions, practically speaking, of, “when will I get married?”, “when will I get that job?”, or what have you, but instead talking about some of the broader ideas of meaning and purpose in terms of the person’s life.
SF: Mhm. Bullseye. Yeah, that’s what it’s about now. I’ve often wondered— and you’d be in a better position than me to respond to this—but it’s generally understood that there were secret traditions—Esoteric traditions, Eleusinian mysteries, et cetera; Tibetan texts that were only revealed to the students, the disciples.
And I’ve often wondered, just speculatively, if there actually had been a tradition of a more metaphysical, Esoteric astrology that got lost because of its own secrecy—a victim of its own secrecy—that the texts were destroyed, the people that carried the traditions orally died off. I don’t know, but given the richness of the metaphysical traditions of humanity for the last hundred thousand years or so, going back into Shamanism, and given the relatively long history of some kind of astrology, it’s hard to believe they never spoke to each other or came together.
CB: Yeah, no, I think there was. I talk about it a little bit in my book, how in some of the texts that did survive, we can see traces of that, like Vettius Valens, for example, asks the reader to swear an oath to keep his teachings secret and to not share them with the unlearned, the uninitiated, and he’s drawing on a set of earlier source texts from authors who didn’t survive and who wrote their texts sometimes in a way that was cryptic or coded so that the knowledge couldn’t be easily learned to somebody who didn’t know the secret terminologies and things like that.
So there were probably some traditions and texts where we can see just the traces of a sort of mystery tradition in astrology, but most of the texts that survived are practical manuals about how to do astrology. And so we don’t have a lot of surviving discussions about the underlying metaphysics or other things like that. We just have little bits and pieces of it.
CB: But you’re right; there probably would’ve been something, especially in the Platonic tradition. It’s hard for me to believe that there wouldn’t have been some astrologer that talked about it partially within the context of past lives, just based on, like I was saying earlier, Plato’s Timaeus, and the Myth of Er specifically. I think I misspoke earlier and said it was in the Timaeus, but it’s actually in the Myth of Er where he has this beautiful sort of metaphor or story—I don’t know how to describe it—but just about this cycle of reincarnation and souls being on the outskirts of the solar system before being born and travelling towards incarnation and then picking lives by casting lots before going into birth. And that must have been part of the philosophical backdrop for at least some of those astrologers.
SF: Mhm, yeah. I love hearing this; you’re much more of a scholar than I am about the history of astrology. But this is—it confirms an intuition I’ve always had. At the risk of sounding completely crazy, I actually wrote about this at the end of Yesterday’s Sky: I’ve had this inexplicable, indefensible feeling that I have been remembering this kind of astrology rather than creating it. And I’m aware of how nuts that would sound to many people, so I would never attempt to defend this.
But I’m happy enough to just own it as a subjective experience that my intuition is that I learned this stuff that I teach now in prior lives. It probably is part of a secret tradition. My south node of the moon: Scorpio, cusp of the 12th house. And it’s good to distance from the south node so I make fun of it a little bit. Here’s how I make fun of it: that in past lives I knew the secret handshake.
SF: It’s good to kind of get past it that way—not make it this big woo-woo sacred thing anymore but to name the vanity of “I have special knowledge, and you don’t,” and to just not be caught up in that game anymore. But my chart suggests maybe I had exposure to such secret teachings through that reading of the south node.
CB: Yeah, well you and I share that south node in Scorpio in common, so I’m going to test you the next time I see you at a conference to see if you do remember the secret handshake. So we’ll find out next time we’re in person.
SF: It’s a deal, Chris.
CB: Okay, I think that’s probably a great note—we could keep going all day, and this has actually been a really lovely discussion–
SF: Yeah, I’ve enjoyed it.
CB: Yeah; maybe we should wrap it up. You’ve written at least half a dozen books; how many books have you written at this point?
SF: I’d say 12 or 13. I wrote a book about synastry, which I then rewrote in two volumes, so the math gets a little funny. But 13 is probably right. I’ve just finished work on The Book of Fire, which is about the three fire signs and the planets that rule them and the associated houses. And it’s volume one of an elements series; I’m eight chapters into The Book of Earth now. Saturn passing through Capricorn and having just turned 70, it just felt right to climb a mountain; so four books.
CB: Wow, that’s a lot.
SF: If I were your age, I probably would’ve jumped off a bridge rather than commit to four books.
CB: Sure. Yeah, that is a lot. But today’s discussion, the one that most of this—and large parts of this discussion are partially based on your book from 2012, which is titled Yesterday’s Sky, right?
SF: Yes, yes.
CB: That’s your primary book where you really not just outline part of your philosophy about astrology and reincarnation but also go into some interpretive steps about how you incorporate that into actual chart work.
SF: Mhm. It’s Yesterday’s Sky and The Inner Sky, my first book, are like bookends In Inner Sky we’re pretty close to my first Saturn return, Yesterday’s Sky, pretty close to my second Saturn return, which strikes me as kind of helpful that The Inner Sky is basically about the analysis of the personality, which we see as the vehicle for the evolution of the soul. Yesterday’s Sky is about understanding the reason the soul has incarnated and its evolutionary intentions.
And when somebody wants to start my teaching program, I’d say internalize those two books, and you’ll have the whole system. The dialogue between the soul’s history and the present vehicle; that’s the entire system.
CB: Right. Brilliant. But despite that, with the two books, you also are really well known for your apprenticeship program. And that’s been something a lot of astrologers—even a lot of notable astrologers—that’s been something at some point, maybe in a separate episode, I’d love to talk to you about that idea of lineage because in the astrological tradition, in the West at least, lineage just died out in the 18th and 19th century. And we didn’t have that transmission from teacher to student anymore for generations like we had at one point for centuries.
But people like yourself, through your apprenticeship program, you’ve actually taught hundreds of astrologers. And some of them have themselves gone on to become notable astrologers in the field over the past few decades and then begin teaching students of their own and so on and so forth. So you’ve sort of relaunched or reignited some of the astrological tradition in lineages in some sense.
SF: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and I’m excited about that and proud of it, and it’s one of my favorite subjects. I related in my system to sixth house and Virgo, the servant kind of symbolism. The sixth house and Virgo have gotten the reputations of being kind of boring; if you do a talk about the sixth house at an astrology conference, nobody comes. And it’s like we’ve lost the soul of it, the most exciting part of it, is this idea of lineage, of transmission. The way you can simply sit with somebody who has knowledge, and you get some of it!
SF: I shook hands with Eric Clapton once, the great British guitar player. I got to meet him, had five minutes with him, shook hands, and I carried my hand home and got out my guitar. And I’m laughing, but I really did it. And I felt like it helped me to touch Eric Clapton. And I’m aware of how crazy that sounds, but I’m also aware that go back a thousand years, and that did not sound crazy. We’ve lost something so exciting; lineage, I’d love to talk about it with you sometime.
CB: Definitely. Well we’ll save that for next time because there’s something special about that. And that’s something that you, more than a number of other astrologers I know, have really done an amazing job with. So yeah, people can find out more information about your training programs. What’s your website again? What’s the address?
CB: Okay, brilliant. And I’ll put a link to that in the description page for this episode. Thanks a lot for joining me today; I really appreciate it.
SF: Listen, Chris, I’ve really enjoyed it too. I’m glad it finally happened.
CB: Yeah, me too. All right, thanks everybody for listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast; I appreciate it very much. And I guess that’s it, so we’ll see you next time.
SF: Thank you.