The astrology which is most commonly seen amongst professional astrologers in the western world is what I call conventional astrology. I use the word conventional because it is the lowest common denominator seen in Western astrology. It was the standard right up through the 1960s, but by the 1980s it was showing its age.
If you pick up a book about natal astrology in a library or bookstore, you have a 90% chance it's conventional astrology. Those knowledgable about the cutting edge of modern astrology find this older school of astrology quite dated. Yet, while dated, there are still useful things it can do. For instance, it is a crucially useful tool for beginning students of astrology, for it gives them a reference point for their future studies.
Nonetheless, we have to understand its limits. What was conventional
astrology's strongest asset for many centuries, its universality, has now
become it's most serious flaw. Let's examine that flaw of universality.
By universality I mean that conventional astrology assigns the same
meaning for the same planetary positions to all persons at all times
regardless of age, location, or personal development. This was the Medieval trap
of fatalism brought forward to the 20th Century by uncritical thinkers.
Only a few modern astrologers, such as Dane Rudhyar, have consciously
disengaged themselves from this narrow mode of thought.
That so much of contemporary astrological thinking still is stuck in
this rut is one of the major reasons astrology still rightfully suffers
from disrepute in mainstream society.
A singularity of meaning of planetary influences denies free choice,
personal growth, and spiritual growth, the essence of human existence.
There was a time, prior to the 20th Century, when people allowed themselves
to be dictated to by cultural programming to the extent that their free
choice was relinquished to the collective norm. The price paid in human
suffering for this was enormous. Sadly, this was true through the last
several hundred years of Western society right into the 1960s.
But during the 1960s cracks emerged publicly in the monolith. For
whatever reasons, people began to think for themselves. The old
certainties didn't work anymore. Individuals began marching, sometimes to the beat
of their own drummer. By the end of the 20th Century, those cracks had
turned in chasms. Uranus and Neptune had transited through Capricorn,
disrupting and dissolving the old structures. Things just weren't the
same any more.
Suddenly, a given planetary position might mean any one of several
things, depending on the person. Suddenly the hoary old rules of what
an aspect in a chart was "supposed" to mean didn't work. The
individual had to be taken into account. What is the level of the person's
personal and spiritual awareness? Without an answer to that question,
the old astrological rules failed.
What has happened to conventional astrology is what has happened to a
lot of archaic and crystallised thinking in the West: it has become
irrelevant. To claim, as conventional astrology does, that all persons
with the same aspects are all the same is nonsense.
People have free choice. They can choose to shuck off the chains and
grow. Conventional astrology overlooks this. The public rightly discredits
such thinking, because the public now correctly rejects any philosophy which
demands they go backward in time to a previous century's mistakes.
Part of the genius of Dane Rudhyar was
that he saw this coming decades before it actually manifested. Long
before the cracks were showing in society, Rudhyar set forth levels
of spiritual evolution as touchstones for interpreting astrological
He wrote volumes of books about this. But he was so far ahead of his
time that only small numbers of astrologers understood what he was saying.
It hasn't changed much. Today only a few astrologers have begun to realize
the direction he was pointing to.
Rudhyar spoke of people evolving over a lifetime, taking the energies
in a natal chart learning to use them at higher and higher levels as the
years go by in life. Rudhyar spoke of using the energies in the natal
chart to liberate a person from the chains of the material world.
He spoke of free choice in the use of astrological configurations
as the leverage point to get out of the wheel of suffering. In each person,
then, the energies would manifest a bit differently. He even itemized the
various levels at which a person could use the energies differently, the
rungs of the ladder upon which a person could climb.
He set out four levels of evolution, from pretty dreadfully unevolved
to quite spiritually advanced. Most of his students today, myself included,
have dropped the lowest level and work with the three higher levels.
I see my work as in astrology as being a "way-shower," showing
people the way to evolved out of the lower unevolved usages of their
astrological energies into a more evolved, spiritual way to use their
energy. It is through this evolution that the pain, sorrow, and
difficulties of life drop away as the individual comes to embrace The All
with him/herself as the guiding reference point in life.
Conventional astrology makes no effort to show people the path out of
the forest. Conventional astrology is preoccupied with boxing people in
their chart with no hope of release. In the Middle Ages that was the
thinking of the prevailing society, although the philosophical roots for
this thinking go back nearly 2,000 years to the dualist philosophies of the
ancient Middle East. One such philosophy postulated that individuals were
enslaved by their charts. That thinking gradually worked it's way into
the centre of western astrology over the millennia.
Sadly there are still contemporary astrologers still buy into this kind of
obsolete thinking. Perhaps the reason is that astrologers themselves have
not had the courage to take the personal journey of growth required to
liberate themselves from their own chart, which is a pity. As a profession
we have a long way to go. Physician, heal thyself.
But do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Most assuredly not.
While I have serious reservations about conventional astrology's
philosophical basis, I also have seen it, in certain circumstances,
be very helpful.
Conventional astrology works at what Rudhyar (and many of his students,
myself included) identified as the lowest of the three levels of evolution.
In other words, if you want to see how dense the energy can get, take a
look at mainstream astrology. If the picture of a natal chart isn't pretty,
then it shows the kind of spiritual curriculum the soul has set for its
Here's where we have to get our perspective together. The natal chart
is the starting point. Everyone
has to start somewhere. However, the natal chart is not the finish line.
There are at all times on this planet a few wise old souls who have
transcended their charts. These individuals are here to remind us that we
can, in fact rise above it.
Believe it or not, our goal as astrologers is to render ourselves
obsolete. When our clients are so spiritually evolved that they no longer
need our services, we can claim success.
That's a noble goal, but the fact remains that at present almost
everyone in Western society at some point hits the density of their own
natal chart. So conventional astrology is a useful reference point for
anyone to understand density. But here's the key: just don't get mired in it.
Rudhyar's early work to break the natal chart free of determinism led
to using the chart as a reliable map of a person's personality. In fact
there is now a whole school of non-conventional astrology which is devoted
to the psychology of an individual as reflected in the natal chart. Liz
Greene, a Jungian psychologist, is one of several effective writers in
These astrologers are excellent at showing individuals how to begin and
sustain personal growth. There's nothing wrong with personal growth; it's
just limited. Personal growth in this context limits itself to the full
unfoldment of the ego personality. But the ego personality, in spiritual
terms, is a dead end. It perishes with the incarnation, and you can't take
it with you.
Thus the shortcoming with personal growth, and the modern industry which
has grown up around it, is that it usually doesn't take the next step,
which is spiritual growth (which you can take with you). However growth
is growth, and while personal growth limits as much as it expands, at least
it is not the quagmire of determinism.