Interview with Nick Campion
By Garry Phillipson
Q: I was reading about an experience you had in 1980 where you attended the opening of an antiques shop and gave a reading to a TV person without being able to calculate their chart. If I’ve got it right, what you did was to take the four outermost planets for their year of birth, and the six transiting inners as they were at the time of the reading. So you used a chart which was, conventionally speaking, wrong for that person, but you say that you were able to give a successful reading from it. What’s going on here?
A: You’re the only person I know who’s read that actually – apart from the person who reviewed it! The article was called “Mythical Moments in the Rectification of History”, and it was published in Astrology Looks at History, Llewellyn, 1995, edited by Noel Tyl. The other two astrologers present were my friends Jeff Meddle and Bettina Lee. To return to that experience in the antique shop: at the time there was quite a bit of talk in the Astrological Lodge about a “Lodge Approach” to astrology – as opposed to what was seen as an AA approach to astrology. BAPS was very small, there were just a few of us practising astrology – Bettina Lee, Jeff Meddle and me – and we used to talk about a BAPS approach to astrology, which was slightly more anarchic than the Lodge or AA approach. I still see myself as pursuing the BAPS approach to astrology! I need to explain this anecdote by saying a little about how I feel about contemporary astrology.
The doctrine of “the baby and the bathwater” is, I think, crucial to understanding astrology’s nature. This notion is due to Kepler, the idea being that astrology contains a core of demon-strable truth, which is the “baby”, surrounded by an ocean of false superstition, which is the “bathwater”. To Kepler, the superstitious bathwater included almost the entire weight of astrological tradition. The same point of view was also put forward in this century by the people who wanted to research astrology scientifically, as they saw it, and still underpins most efforts to “research” astrology, in which the goal is to find out which techniques “work” and which don’t, or to establish statistical correlations between celestial and terrestrial events. John Addey and Michel Gauquelin are the twentieth century’s two most famous exponents of this approach. I tend to agree that the “baby-bathwater” polarity is a useful one, and that it is possible to view astrology in two completely different ways. I also have considerably more respect for the “bathwater”: without it there is no astrology!
In fact this distinction is first found in Cicero’s 1st century A.D work, On Divination. In this he argued that there is a reliable, verifiable, useful form of divi-nation which he called “Natural divination”, based on reasoned evidence and measurement, on what today we’d call science. Then there was “Judicial divination”, in which everything depends on the diviner’s ability to reach a judgement through irrational or super-natural means. Cicero disapproved of this and included such practices as entrails divination and horo-scopic astrology as “Judicial”. From this we get the division of astrology into two types, Natural and Judicial, a distinction which was very common in the middle ages, but which we seem to have forgotten.
Natural astrology survives today in astro-physics. We know there is a common mathematical order linking the Earth to the rest of the universe; that’s the laws of physics and nobody disputes it. What arouses disagreement is how far that affects human society. There is very little evidence to suggest that it does, but at the same time it seems perfectly logical to suggest that there should be links. If human rhythms and cycles are linked to annual cycles, they are linked to the Sun and the Moon, and solar and lunar motions are part of the rest of the mathematical order in the solar system, then I see no theoretical reason why one day we shouldn’t be able to substantiate the existence of planetary connections with human affairs to the satisfaction of society as a whole, not just astrologers. That would seem to me to the basis of a perfectly workable Natural astrology – especially mundane astrology.
But most of what astrologers do, it seems to me, must be classed as Judicial astrology, which is what I mean when I talk about astrology in this interview. It is quite clearly not demonstrable under the sort of repeatable, controlled conditions required by contemporary science. Much of what astrologers do is actually not demonstrable according to the standards acceptable in astrology, witness the number of wrong predictions astrologers make about their own lives, let alone other people’s. There may be various philosophical justifications for everyday astrology , but there certainly is no justification for the idea that what most astrologers do can be measured and proved. We also have to bear in mind that an awful lot of evidence for astrology – articles that look at charts, famous people’s horoscopes and so on, or the astrology that astrologers do for clients – is based on inaccurate data. It’s quite clear in the astrological literature that horoscopes based on inaccurate data are regarded as every bit as much as demonstrations of good astrology as horoscopes based on accurate data.
I need to say a bit more about the data question, in view of the fact that I am very insistent that astrological data should be given as accurately as possible. It’s just not good enough to round data to the nearest hour or give the source as “biography” or “Los Angeles Times”, with no further details. That makes it impossible for other astrologer to check whether the data is set for an actual time or not, and as astrology insists that accurate times are important surely we should try and get them. That’s the principle which underpins The Book of World Horoscopes.
Yet, in spite of the repeated claims that data needs to be as accurate as possible, astrologers repeatedly and deliberately use horoscopes set for imaginary times. Some data is just muddled. This is ordinary dirty data, and I remember Charles Harvey causing a stir in the mid-80s by writing an article in the journal mentioning various books which listed wrong data. But then there’s the question of rectification. I was looking at Marc Penfield’s Horoscopes of the Western Hemisphere the other day, and the horoscope for Jacksonville, Florida, is set for 11.22 am while the historical data gives the time as between 10 and 11 am. In other words, in Penfield’s view the rectified chart is set for a different time to the historical event. This is perfectly traditional practice in rect-ification, but it must be obvious to everyone that such practices directly contradict the simple line we give to students and the public, namely that astro-logy insists that charts must be set for accurate times.
I’m not saying that such practices are wrong. But what is clear is that they are not represented in standard astrological philosophy. Indeed, they are directly contradicted by it. There are philosophical justifications, though: it’s just that we’ve forgotten them. I’d like to illustrate the point in relation to the Gemini rising chart for the USA, which perhaps about half of US astrologers use. It is set for 2.17 am, 4 July 1776 in Philadelphia. We know that at that time all members of Congress would have been asleep, but a mythology has developed that the founders of the US constitution got up in the middle of the night, instructed by astrologers, and declared independence at 2.17 am. This is total nonsense, but the astrologers who use this chart were so convinced that horoscopes have to be set for exact times that they had to create a whole fairy tale to justify the chart. The truth is that the 19th century astrologer Luke Broughton set the chart up for 2.17 am on the grounds that the US was a revolutionary country and that the best take on it could be established by putting Uranus on the first cusp and creating a “Uranian” chart. Charles Carter also advocated this sort of thing. In other words, there is a perfectly legitimate practice of astrology in which horoscopes are set for symbolic moments, not for accurately recorded times. Yet this is not recognised publicly, and any basis for its existence is denied. In other words, Jung’s aphorism that “whatever happens at this moment in time has the quality of this moment in time” is essential for Natural astrology, but not necessary for Judicial astrology, as common astrological practice shows. Thus what I am saying here is not my own radical opinion, but a simple conclusion based on observation of what astro-logers actually do.
Let me give another example. In her 1924 Year-book Elsbeth Ebertin made a celebrated forecast of Hitler’s destiny. She wrote that he had the Sun in 29° Aries and that “the man I have in mind, with this strong Aries influence, is destined to sacrifice himself for the German nation” (see Ellic Howe’s Urania’s Children, p 90). Hitler actually had the Sun in Taurus, yet for Ebertin to make her remarkably appropriate generalised account of Hitler’s future she needed to assume that he had the Sun in Aries – that he was destined to be the country’s great leader. If Ebertin had known that Hitler had the Sun in Taurus, perhaps she would never have been able to write as she did.
It seems to me that most astrology is therefore more akin to tarot reading or the I Ching, in that it should be classed as divinatory: it’s based on one-off, non-repeatable instances, in which everything depends on the astrologer’s ability to read the symbolism and endow the horoscope with meaning. I started using the I Ching when I was 18, although I often found the language too much of a struggle at that age. I also learnt tarot once: I went to classes with Juliet Sharman-Burke in 1979. At that time also I was in the British Astrological Psychic Society, where a lot of tarot readers used to argue about the correct way to lay out the cards correctly: should one use a Celtic Cross, or a Zodiac Wheel, or whatever. As if it mattered!
It seemed apparent to me that the only thing that matters when you are doing a tarot reading is that, before you turn a card over, you have decided what its significance is. To me, it’s the same with astrology. You need to know what the significance is before you start, and I don’t think that’s a controversial statement. After all, you can’t even begin to interpret a chart until you know if it’s set for a chicken, an egg, a car, a question or a person. I do think reading a chart requires discipline, but it is clear from the amount of astrological literature that relies on false data, that there is, amongst astrologers, actually no requirement for horoscopes to be based on the exact time of birth. I’m looking at what astrologers actually do here, not what they say they do. If astro-logers are asked, they will say that the time of birth needs to be recorded to within fifteen minutes if possible to get an accurate chart. But what they do is something entirely different. In practice they learn from books which give examples based on inaccurate data and go on to read charts for clients who have got their birth data wrong. The Uranian school even uses non-existent planets! They’re not even pretending that there is any connection between measurable astronomical data and events on Earth. If Uranian astrology is taken seriously, as it is, then can we really continue to argue that there is a necessary connection between the known physical planets and the interpretations of, say, horary astrology? Perhaps there isn’t!
This is the sort of thing which is possible to say in private, amongst astrologers, and a lot of well-known astrologers will nod wisely as if it’s true, but it’s not allowed to be talked about in public. That’s the “bathwater”, all that astrology, the everyday process of reading charts, counsel-ling clients and writing Sun sign columns. But unlike those who think we should throw away the bathwater and keep the baby, I actually think the bathwater is astrology. Throw it way and you’ve got nothing left. To attempt to research it to find out which parts of Judicial astrology are true and which are not is therefore a fruitless exercise. I’ve also got no problem with a concept like superstition. I think the correct way to look at it is to say, “What is the positive function of superstition? What is the organising function it serves?” I think that’s a perfectly legitimate way to look at it. In other words, we’re asking not whether astrology is “true”, a question which leads into all sorts of philo-sophical tail-chasing, but is it “useful’? Or, to put it another way, what use does it serve?
Q: On the analogy between tarot and astrology, and things having the significance you decide they will have – how far do you take this? To take an extreme position, do you think someone could decide that Venus is about assertion and aggression, and get valid readings on that basis?
A: That already happens. What about someone born with Venus in Aries, for example? They have an assertive, aggressive Venus. But even if you look at the Venus principle itself then you find different dimensions. As a presiding goddess, Inanna, the Babylonian Venus, could have destructive functions as well as nurturing. The epic poem The Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur, relates how around 4,000 years ago Inanna withdrew her protection from Ur leaving the Gutians to sweep in from the north and destroy it, encouraged by the storm god, Enlil. In An Introduction to Political Astrology Charles Carter wrote that Venus represents victory in war, which may be a different way of saying that it’s a planet of peace. But to the Aztecs Venus was the planet which indicated auspicious moments to launch their incredibly bloody wars. In my opinion the evidence shows that the meanings and personalities which we attribute to the planets do not have any external existence. We create them. That is why the Babylonians could have a male Moon and the Japanese a female Sun: there is nothing “archetypally” male about the Sun or female about the Moon. Such things the are labels we need in order to interpret horoscopes. The concept of archetypes provides a great model for linking astrological ideas and symbols, but it’s just a model. It helps us think, and make sense of horoscopes. The planet Venus’ “female” personality has no more reality than the Greek goddess Venus. It’s a myth, and astrology is practical mythology. Just as we create God in our own image, so we create planetary personalities which reflect our culture. That’s why feminist astrologers criticise the concept of a female Venus which conforms to Victorian ideals of the demure maiden who only speaks when she’s spoken to. Actually the conscious attempt to feminise astrology by adding female asteroids to counter-balance the male preponderance of planets is a tacit acceptance of the fact that we make astrology up as we go along. It’s not “out there”. It’s in us. As Jung said, it’s a psychic projection. I think that’s the message of those wonderful medieval “zodiac man” prints: the zodiac is “inside” us. That’s what Shakespeare was saying when he wrote that the fault lies in us, not in our stars. That’s also the point which underpins the Humanistic astrology developed by Rudhyar and others, although I don’t think he took it far enough.
By the way, I also find it interesting that both the Centre for Psychological Astrology and the Company of Astrologers offer seminars in the tarot, a tacit admission that it’s useful for astrologers.
Q: What is the positive function of superstition?
A: We can answer this question by looking at the positive function of religion, which provides a framework for action, providing incentives and taboos which encourage certain forms of behaviour and restrict others. An extreme example is the fear of hell or divine retribution as a disincentive to commit crime. Judicial astrology provides a framework for thought. It can be limiting, as when people use their charts as excuses, or fail to keep appointments when Mercury is retrograde. It can also be liberating, enabling the astrologer to make connections which would otherwise be missed. I was reminded of this point by Mavis Klein’s point that when she discovered astrology she was able to get to a client’s relevant problems much quicker than relying purely on conventional psychology.
Q: If that is the case, then would you say that there are as many astrologies as there are astrologers?
A: Yes, it’s quite clear that – to an extent – there are. Every astrologer brings their own astrology to the situation, and that’s no more of a radical statement than saying, “There are as many medicines as there are doctors” – each doctor will have a slightly different bedside manner and diagnostic approach. So that is, I should have thought, a perfectly true and uncontroversial statement. Like doctors, astro-logers share a central language, but their individual skills and personalities must mean that they are drawn to individual ways of working.
I do think that it’s important for astrologers to be able to communicate with each other. Astrology is a language, and if people start innovating with the language too much, it becomes difficult to hold any meaningful communication. When I got into astrology in the 70’s, it seemed to me that there was quite a bit of irritation with the way that the language of astrology was being stretched in different directions – either tacked very overtly on to psychological models, or expanded via the incorporation of new astronomical bodies, like the asteroids. It might just be me, living down here in Bristol, but I’m not aware of such irritations at the moment. It doesn’t seem to be as bad as in the late seventies and early eighties when some “traditional” astrologers thought that psychological astrology was not proper astrology at all, others thought there was nothing in horary astrology, some thought that any astrology which had not been “proved” was not proper astrology at all, and most looked down on Sun sign astrology. It seems to me now that there’s a great deal more mutual tolerance.
Q: What demarcates a good astrologer from a bad astrologer? How do you differentiate between the person who looks at the wrong chart because that happens to contain the right information for their client at this time, and the person who looks at the wrong chart because they don’t know what they are doing?
A: I don’t think it’s possible to say what makes a good astrologer, because of the fact there are completely different sorts of astrologer, all using astrology in different circumstances. When you began to ask the question, I thought that what makes a good astrologer is caution. That’s because I was thinking of mundane predictions, where people do tend to make outlandish forecasts – some of which are completely ridiculous. On the other hand, very often, totally unexpected things do happen, so one shouldn’t be afraid to make predictions. I can look back and see how we could have forecast Britain going to war with Argentina; but to have forecast such a thing would have been considered ridiculous. It would have been like saying, today, “Switzerland will go to war with Nepal”.
So – caution is necessary, as is common sense. But if you are working with people, your personality is obviously much more important than the astrology. You need to be both very sensitive to other people’s concerns, and confident in what you are saying. Yesterday afternoon I was watching one of these American shows – “the Lisa show”, a bit like the Oprah Winfrey show. They had a numerologist, and this woman was loud, and brash, and totally confident in what she was saying; but also had sensitivity. People would come to the microphone and say, “I’m a five and my baby’s a four; what should we be doing? ” And this woman would give absolutely appropriate, meaningful, on-the-spot advice. She had the personality and the confidence to do it, quite aside from the question of whether there was anything “true” in her numerology or not.
There was a slightly legendary course in about 1980, taught by an astrologer called Chryss Crasswell, who succeeded me as President of BAPS, at one of the South London educational institutes – maybe Wandsworth. This was a ten-week course, taught to local women – uneducated, working class women. Its reputation was that these women instantly became really good astrologers.
What you don’t need to be a professional astrologer is a lot of technique, and a lot of education alone, without any other qualities. To be a practising astrologer, seeing clients, you need the right personality. You actually don’t necessarily need to know about more than Sun signs and Moon signs. If you’ve got a strong chart and it’s got Pluto on the Ascendant, you can do a whole reading on Pluto on the Ascendant. You don’t necessarily need anything else – you have to pick out what is relevant to the person. The reason I said “Sun signs” and “Moon signs” is because I met somebody the other day who asked me about her chart. She was born on 9th July. So her Sun is about 18 – 20° Cancer – and hence, at the moment Saturn is square her Sun. When I looked in the ephemeris she also has Saturn square natal Saturn, and transiting Saturn is conjunct Saturn at the moment. So it’s an incredibly important point for her; for redefining her limits. I spoke to her for about five minutes about that, but I’m sure I could have done a two-hour reading. Just on that basis. And we could have had a great conversation, because what I said obviously struck a chord.
So while I’m a great advocate of astrological education – as much as possible – that’s really because I’m into education for its own sake. It doesn’t necessarily make decent practising astrologers. You can have all the qualifications in the world and be a really lousy astrologer – but that’s the same in any profession. In any area the greatest professors may not be the best practitioners. I believe that education elevates the spirit, but there are also two practical reasons why astrologers should pursue formal courses. One is so that they learn the common language and the other is so that they learn about the ethics of seeing clients. I think that the Faculty recognised that although their Diploma re-presented a suffi-cient level of astrological education, it was not really enough to justify professional practice, when they instituted their post-diploma counselling course. The CPA provides the same service by insisting that its diploma students are themselves in analysis. I don’t want anyone to think that my words on the limitations of technique are taken as criticism of astrological education, because they’re not.
Q: Suppose that someone is interested in astrology but is also quite sceptical and investigative by nature – could it be that they might have to get a lot of technique under their belt before they would be able to let themselves be good astrologers?
A: Well, yes, one would assume that sceptical people feel safe with rules and regulations. Everyone has to find their own level, with technical or intuitive, or a mixture of both. After all, the fundamental doctrine of natal astrology is that we are all unique. It is therefore impossible to both be an astrologer and argue that some approaches to astrology are “right” and others are “wrong”, even though some people have tried.
Q: In Buddhist philosophy, faith (or confidence) has to balance investigation: you need to enquire, to learn, but learning will be of no use unless you match it with confidence.
A: That’s why, coming back to the subject of data, in that same essay that you quoted in which I talk about the incident in the antique shop, I spoke about the Faculty chart calculation forms. They always used to include the words, “birth time as given” beside the relevant box. They recognised the fact that, in Britain, birth times were not recorded; so if someone goes to an astrologer and says, “I was born at half past four”, they may have a perfectly good reading, and then they find out they were born at half past ten. I know some astrologers who claim that they can always spot wrong data, but my impression after watching astrologers over many years is that it is very difficult to tell a “wrong” chart from a “right ” chart. Most astrologers will make any chart fit any situation. But then, that’s not the point. The point is to use the chart as a means to come up with useful conclusions.
Q: Could I take a note of your birth data?
A: 4th March 1953, 10 minutes past midnight, in Bristol. 20 Scorpio rising, 13 Pisces Sun and 18 Libra Moon. My Sun is on the IC, and combined with Scorpio’s secrecy, I see that as a good symbol for the fact that I hide myself away in a quiet corner of the world. (View Nick Campion’s birth chart here.)
Q: What was your background, how did it influence you?
A: My family background is quite religious and intellectual, I suppose. There was a strong predominance in my mother’s side of the family – which is the stronger side – towards teachers and vicars. So it was natural for me to grow up thinking that intangible, or spiritual, matters were what counted. I guess I had the personality as well to want to follow this sort of path. I became aware of astrology when I was about eight – through newspaper horoscopes – and had my first encounter with more detailed astrology when I was eleven. I found a little leaflet about my Sun-sign in a tourist shop in the Norfolk broads, and sent off ten shillings to Madame Francesca of Brighton for more detailed information about Pisces. When it came back, I was stunned at how accurate it was. I felt as if, at last, someone had understood me. It was just a couple of sheets of A4 on the basics of the Piscean personality, but I felt as if I was having my mind read and deepest secrets exposed.
Then when I was fifteen to eighteen, it was the late sixties and early seventies, and I was very attracted to the alternative cultures that were thriving then, and the sort of things I had been secretly interested in as a child suddenly seemed to be coming much more into the public domain. I remember the first time I was picked up by a van of hippies when I was hitching and they asked me what my Sign was and I was astounded that here were people who spoke my language. I was interested in all “alternative” matters, but whatever I studied, astrology seemed to rise to the top of the pile.
I began to study astrology seriously at university, and in my last year started writing written chart interpretations for my friends. I guess that what intrigued me about astrology (probably the same as a lot of other people) was that, while it is – on one level – very intangible and mysterious, it still usually takes its cue from the observable, measurable, cycles of the planets (if we ignore Uranian astrology). So it is the bridge between the subjective and the objective – as it’s presented in the books.
Q: Does that “as it’s presented in the books” imply, “but I see it differently’?
A: Yes. I think it’s clear from this interview that I’m dissatisfied with a lot of the conventions in astrology and by what I see as our tendency to avoid the difficult questions, such as how can “wrong” data give the “right” reading, or what sort of House system you have if you’re at the North Pole. We’ll face even more fundamental problems when the first baby is born on the Moon, which could happen within the next thirty years. If there’s no Moon in the child’s chart what will represent its mother? The earth? I think it’s time for a radical rethink, for a genuinely humanistic, “person-centred” astrology.
Q: What was your involvement with psychic work?
A: Not very much. I had various inexplicable psychic experiences of various sorts, as I’m sure many people have. But there was a time, when I was in my early twenties, when I was President of the British Astrological Psychic Society for a while. I thought about doing a course in psychic development (thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to develop psychic powers’); I mentioned this to a friend, and she said, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ I began to look at my motives, and began to realise that there are two definitions of the word ‘spiritual’. On the one hand there is the idea of developing one’s spirituality in a moral sense, becoming a better person; on the other side, spirituality is confused with being psychic and having hidden powers – no matter what sort of person you are.
I became aware of that distinction then. Also, I thought that my head was way too off in the clouds anyway, and what I needed to do was to forget psychic powers and experiences – and just try to keep my feet on the ground, live in the normal world. So that’s what I do; try to be part of the world. Which means that when I’ve done with my astrology during the day, I like to do something incredibly ordinary in the evening – like play poker or act in the local pantomime. My experience with psychic things is now nil, and quite happily so. And it was minimal in the past – just enough to show me that there is something weird out there!
Q: You seem to gravitate towards presidencies!
A: It’s odd, isn’t it? I was President of BAPS around 1981-3, President of the Lodge from 1984-7 and again in 1992, and I’ve been President of the AA since 1994. I guess my 11th house Libra Moon points to the reason: I seem to be a good diplomat, encouraging people to get on and smoothing over the cracks. I suppose my Arien Mercury, Venus and Mars indicate that I do like to initiate things, but in fact I also loathe being the top person. I hate it as much as I love it! I’d see my reclusive Sun on the IC as representing the part of me which likes to hide away. Some of the things I’ve enjoyed most as President of the AA have been just helping out as an ordinary AA member – carrying boxes of books around, for example. That’s why I’m looking forward to standing down as President and doing a stint as an ordinary Council member, making use of all the experience I’ve built up as President.
Q: I was trying to imagine what it was like – being President of the AA and Editor of Transit; I decided it would be a real nuisance!
A: I think that one should only do such voluntary jobs as long as one has the energy. For a while I was putting a full day’s work a week into the AA, which adds up to seven weeks a year. Now I’ve started working for my PhD I have to stand back a bit, but I have immense respect for all the other people I know who are continuing do put in these sorts of hours, at whatever level. I think its amazing that since I joined the AA twenty years ago the Journal has only been late a couple of times, and then not disastrously so. The AA has acquired a great deal of international respect for the fact that it actually gets things done. It has held thirty successful annual conferences in succession, and the Journal appears six times a year, no matter what.
Personally, I’m something of a committee addict. My first political action was organising a mass squat in Camden in the mid-late seventies. That involved joining the local Labour Party where I rose to be a member of the Executive Committee and met many of the figures in the London party, such as Ken Livingstone and Michael Foot. Frank Dobson, now health minister, was our local M.P., although I was part of a revolt when he was selected – because he was too right wing! Then I joined the Green Party and stood as a candidate a few times in the early nineties. So, if I’m not on an astrological committee, I’ll find one somewhere else!
Q: One problem in astrological circles could be that people are often attracted to astrology because they feel it’s going to give them a bit more power in their lives.
A: I think so, I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of being at a public occasion and when people find out that we’re astrologers they react with fascination and awe (when they don’t become dismissive and sarcastic). Many people assume that astrologers have hidden powers, and I think it’s very important for aspiring astrologers to be taught not to play on the client’s fears and projections.
I was thinking about the astrologers’ social position in other terms, as well, recently. Astrologers are normally regarded as the ‘fringe’, and yet many of are self-employed – and so they know a lot more about the ‘real world’ than many people who are in apparently real jobs, who are just floating through (some of them still think they’ve got jobs for life) expecting the world to look after them. But if you’re a self-employed astrologer or tarot- reader, organising your tax returns and your private pension, fighting your way through the modern economic world, you may be much more in touch with what is going on than are many people who are considered mainstream.
Q: What changes would you like to see in the world of astrology?
A: I’d like to see the people responsible for teaching astrology, and for writing about it and representing it in public, actually keep up to date with developments in the field. My specific example is that there are two events in British astrology every year which are about astrology (as opposed to ‘about doing astrology’). One is the Lodge History Seminar; and one is the AA Research Conference. You won’t find very many teachers of astrology, going to either. You won’t find many people who represent astrology in public going to either. It could be one reason why astrologers are very poor at putting up a public defence of astrology; why they are not really able to counter sceptical criticisms of astrology, for example. After all, a lot of criticisms of astrology are pretty wide of the mark.
Apart from that, I would like to see astrologers who join societies and go to meetings prepared to pay more – if they can afford it. There is a lack of money in astrology, a problem I first encountered this problem at the Astrological Lodge in the early 80s: when we used to pass the collection bowl round, people would put a penny in the collection bowl – and then quite happily spend several pounds in the pub. I’m going to sound like a New Labour person here, but it is absolutely true that some of the people who complain about the cost of astrology meetings will spend far more on alcohol and tobacco in a week. That argument is always thrown back at you, and you are told ‘It’s OK for you – just because you’ve got money’. But it’s absolutely true. This is one problem anyone considering organising astrology events has to be prepared for! Both in the Lodge and the AA we look after the people who are genuinely short of cash, and there are always concessionary rates. But if people who have less pay less then people who have more need to pay more. ‘From each according to their means, to each according to their needs’, as Karl Marx put it.
Q: Why do you think there is this problem?
A: It may have something to do with the fact that in the nineteenth century it was often considered wrong to charge for what was considered a spiritual gift and it still is by many people. If you confuse astrology with having a spiritual gift, you might consider it wrong to charge. That view was probably propagated by people who had private incomes – which make it easy to have a ‘spiritual gift’ which you don’t have to charge for.
The lack of resources is a problem for people organising events. The AA Conference, for example, is run on a shoe-string, with great dedication. The people who organise the conference actually pay to go to it – the President, the Chair, the Treasurer – pay to go. Other people complain about the cost of it! The result of that is that the speakers don’t get paid. So there is a continual problem in astrology: on the one hand, speakers don’t get paid, and hence it’s difficult to put together a programme of top speakers, especially if they’re coming from abroad.
Q: Literally don’t get paid?
A: Literally. At the moment, the AA has about 1,600 members and charges a basic membership fee of £25. Supposing the annual fee increased to £75, with 300 members in straitened circumstances being exempt; that would give an extra annual income of £65,000. How would you personally like to see that money spent? Because I suspect that people might be happy to pay more, if they had a clear idea about what this would make possible. Bearing in mind that that sort of money is not enough to finance a centre for astrology, I’d like to see the money spent on building up the library and archives, with as much material as copyright allows being put on line so that it would be available to members globally who might otherwise be unable to access it.
Q: (re. the above) Why not have a referendum amongst the members on whether they want to go for this?
A: There’s already a mechanism for this: any member can propose any motion to the AGM. If they wanted a referendum on any proposal then there could be a motion to this effect. Bearing in mind that from 1999 onwards the AGM will be at the conference (as it used to be), then I hope we’d always have around 100 members to discuss such things. Our Council practice is to put any exceptional expenditure over £400 (other than for routine expenditure such as Journal bills) to a Council vote. When the possibility came up of a large donation to the Lilly Cottage appeal we realised that we couldn’t do this without first consulting the members, which would have meant a referendum.
Q: How do you divide up the time you spend on astrology?
A: My astrology now – and for the last fourteen years – has been totally involved with writing. It’s fourteen years since I did a face-to-face consultation, and I don’t miss it at all. At the moment I split my time between the academic side of things and Sun-sign astrology. I do a lot of newspaper columns. I think I might be the only astrologer who is involved in what we call ‘serious astrology’ who is actually an advocate of Sun-sign astrology, rather than merely being defensive about it.
A lot of astrologers will say, ‘Well, there’s Sun-sign astrology, then there’s real astrology’, which is what Russell Grant said when he was on Newsnight, being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman in 1997 at the time of the Dawkins affair, which was a weakness, because he immediately conceded that some astrology wasn’t ‘real astrology’. That’s nonsense. Sunsign astrology is no less real than any other application of Judicial astrology. It’s daily mundane astrology applied to the twelve zodiac character types rather than to countries or stock markets, and if I could compare a decent Sunsign column to anything then it would be to an I Ching hexagram. At their best, Sunsign columns encourage people to pause for a moment and reflect on their lives, circumstances and feelings. The closest parallel I’ve seen was in the Taoist temples in Hong Kong, which are always bustling with people consulting the I Ching.
I love Sun-sign astrology. It was my introduction to astrology, and it’s become my main way of consulting other astrologers. In moments of confusion of crisis I’ll consult Shelly von Strunckel’s column, or whoever else happens to be handy. I was writing my column for Harper’s Bazaar this morning and thinking, ‘I really like doing this; I really like this way of using astrology to communicate with people’. I have no sympathy at all for the idea that some astrology is ‘serious’, and some not, or that astrology should be just for people in small clubs and societies and not available to the public at large.
Q: What is the method for Sun-sign work. Do different writers use different methods?
A: You can use whatever techniques you want. Michel Gauquelin wrote about the increase in the metabolic rate when the Moon rises and culminates, so you can look at the times of day when that happens if you like. The basic idea though, is that you look at the planetary aspects for the day, particularly lunar ones, or any sort of planetary relationship, and look at how it might relate to the different character types. For example, if there’s a Venus-Pluto conjunction, it might indicate emotional volatility, and hence a real chance of unexpected arguments as hidden resentments emerge without warning. One might look at how a Sun- Scorpio might relate to it (they might be in their element), or a Sun-Capricorn (they might be more uncomfortable). Then you might consider what sign the conjunction is in. If it’s in Scorpio then it’s trine Pisces, for example, but if it’s in Sagittarius then it’s square Pisces. Such considerations are obvious, and all astrologers works in this way when they look at the daily ephemeris. Solar charts also rely totally on techniques that are totally part of astrological tradition, such as whole sign aspects and houses, and house systems, set according to symbolic principles (as in the twelve Athla). Using these principles, the cusp of the sign containing the Sun becomes the cusp of the first house.
I’ve never been entirely sure what the objections to Sunsign astrology are, except that they seem to be bound up with issues of image and public presentation or, in other words, taste. The most misleading criticism levelled at it is that to provide accurate information reading one needs an exact time of birth. I think this criticism comes only from astrologers who have no experience of anything outside natal horoscopy. Coming from a background in mundane astrology, and with a deep interest in horary astrology, I have no problem with applications of astrological which do not rely on birth charts. In fact I prefer them!
Q: If you were to do a chart reading for someone now, would you find it useful to see what was going on for them in terms of this Sun-sign column approach?
A: Yes, it’s fast and simple. The first time I spoke to Patrick Walker I had been going through my Uranus opposition, my Pluto square and a range of other major outer planet transits, and I felt pretty emotionally exhausted. He asked me what my Sunsign was and, on hearing it was Pisces, he gave me a complete reading based on the presence of transiting Saturn in my solar twelfth house. He did as much with that as any other astrologer would have done with a Pluto, Uranus and the rest of the cast. I actually spoke about this way of doing things before I became a professional Sunsign astrologer. It was in a lecture titled ‘The Astrologer as Artist’ at an AA conference around 1985.
Q: What is it that you like about Sun-sign work? What do you think it has to offer people?
A: Quite simple, it’s fast, available, accessible. Actually I was talking to Bernard Eccles the other day. He also writes Sunsign columns and he said that we’re like chefs who end up working in fast food restaurants. It is a little like that. But then sometimes fast food is just what you need. I get a different sort of satisfaction from my writing and academic work, which can feel more like creating a six course banquet.
Q: Do the Sun-sign columns generate much correspondence?
A: It’s variable. You get a lot from a national newspaper, virtually none from regional papers. I get a lot of correspondence from India, but I actually don’t answer it – I don’t solicit correspondence as it just becomes much too time-consuming. If people just want a simple recommendation of a local astrologer, I give them one. When I was at the Daily Mail I used to get quite a few letters, and I used to answer them because I didn’t want them complaining to the Editor that I hadn’t answered their letters! Quite a substantial proportion were from people who seemed to be in quite a desperate situation, and were desperate for some kind of help. I was really unable to give them what they wanted, except by writing something vaguely reassuring in reply.
Q: Have there been any Sun-sign column entries which have hit the spot remarkably?
A: A great many, but they all depend on people’s personal appreciation – you write a Sun- sign column in a very general manner, obviously. I’ve had hundreds of letters from people saying, ‘Your accuracy astonishes me’. But I’m aware of the fact that, like astrological consultancy, Sun-sign astrology works with the reader making an active step to participate in the reading; saying, ‘Yes, that reflects my life, it’s amazing’. If you come to a Sun-sign column as a total sceptic, in your eyes it will be flat and one-dimensional and won’t mean anything. If you come with that wish to participate, the words become three-dimensional. Which is exactly the same as in a consultation, where the client will very often be hearing very different things to what the astrologer is saying. The client will be editing, not hearing some things, distorting others, making them fit what they already know or are anticipating. The same processes hold with Sun-sign astrology.
I began to understand Sunsign astrology in around 1981. My Daily Mirror column warned that a friend would have a ‘bright’ idea for spending money, but that I should resist. What actually happened was that a friend persuaded me to buy a car with him. After many twists and turns of fate I finally had one drive in the car, as a passenger for about a hundred yards on London’s Harrow Road. The car gave up the ghost and we abandoned it! My friends name was Bright! I relate this story because it shows how astrology depends partly on selecting the right words at the right moment, My example is from a Sunsign column, but the same process underpins counselling, in which the goal is effective communication between astrologer and client.
Q: How do people get to write Sunsign columns in the first place?
A: Such jobs aren’t publicly advertised, so there’s usually some sort of personal connection. With me, when I joined the Daily Mail I took over from John Naylor, who I had been in contact with over historical matters, and who was the son of R.H.Naylor, who write the first newspaper astrology column in 1930. Marjorie Orr on the Express has a background in journalism; and Jonathan Cainer – when he started with Today, it was because the Features Editor had gone there from Woman magazine and so knew him. Personal connection counts for most. Peter Watson who is now doing the Evening Standard was working with Patric Walker, as was Sally Brompton on the (Mail on Sunday) and Shelley von Strunckel (Sunday Times). Patric Walker himself was introduced to astrology by the writer of the Celeste column in Harpers and Queens.
Q: I was talking to Maurice McCann a month or so back. I understand from him that you taught Jonathan Cainer at some point?
A: He came along to one of my classes. A group of my former students, including Maurice, and Lynn Lovell, who went on to be very active in the Oak Dragon and Rainbow Circle astrology camps, and Mike O’Neill, became friends and formed a group called ‘Aspects’. There were about fifteen of them and they met once a week. We went away on holiday a few times as well; and Jonathan was part of that group. That was when he was starting to work as an astrologer – he was working for Woman magazine I think, and when ‘Aspects’ was winding up, around 1984-5, Today started and he became its astrologer. In fact, he was given a higher profile than any other tabloid astrologer at the time and was thus part of the process that led to the high status astrology now occupies in the tabloid press.
Q: Do you see any realistic prospects of astrology faring better in the media?
A: Not particularly. That’s not a counsel of despair at all. It’s realism. I don’t think that astrology actually does any worse in the media than any other profession. If you look at doctors, architects, psychotherapists, lawyers – they all think they have got a lousy reputation in the media. To an extent, they have – it’s the character of the modern media to try and pull things apart. I read the Skeptical Inquirer, the magazine for New Age hating believers in the total power of science and it’s always carrying articles attacking the media for running scientists down, with the image of the ‘mad scientist’ and so on, and for giving credence to new Age and paranormal beliefs. So before we bemoan astrology’s status in the media we need to look at how other areas are treated, and the conclusion has to be that, given the state of modern journalism, astrology may not actually get a bad deal!
When you look at an afternoon chat show like the Esther programme, then it’s a daft programme and nothing fares well on it. But when you look at what astrology has got on its side – it has all the tabloid newspapers printing positive stories about it. Look at the Gunther Sachs book on Sun-sign astrology (it’ll be coming out in England soon). Gunther Sachs financed enormous research into people’s behaviour and their Sun-signs, which is very positive for astrology. In spite of the fact that the research probably contains major flaws (all research does, including in mainstream science) it had a positive press, especially in the tabloids, but in the broadsheet press as well.
Of course we can do better. I think we can do our best with occasional programmes like the BBC2 Everyman programme, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ which has been broadcast all over the world. It’s eighteen years since I first went on the radio and in all those years I’ve learnt a few basic lessons. One is never to make claims for astrology’s usefulness or accuracy that can’t be justified. Another is to be honest and humble about its short comings. That gets the interviewer and audience on your side. The vital consideration, for anything other than live broadcasts, is never to say anything which can be taken out of context and used to make you ridiculous after careful editing. With newspaper journalists you have to tread very carefully because they often have a pre-set agenda. If I’m phoned up by the Guardian, for example, I’ll usually ask what approach they’re taking, and whether they are hostile or not. That can’t guarantee a fair hearing, but it can help.
You know, sometimes astrology is treated ridiculously – not through any malicious reasons. When Newsnight had Russell Grant and Richard Dawkins on back in 1997, they were phoning up all day wondering whether to have me on; in the end they phoned at about 6 o’clock to say that they weren’t going to have me on. They had Russell instead. He hadn’t read the Richard Dawkins article, they knew he hadn’t read it, he didn’t get a chance to read it before he went on and they provided this ridiculous set with the tassels and the candles. That’s a pretty damning indictment of journalistic standards on the BC’s flagship news programme. Perhaps they took a decision to ridicule astrology. I think more likely, they just thought, ‘this is the light bit at the end of the programme’. But it was really sloppy journalism, because Russell Grant hadn’t read the Richard Dawkins article and didn’t even know who Richard Dawkins was. So they took him and dropped him in at the deep end – which was not at all fair to him. They let themselves down in the process, and they actually realised it. They apologised, and the resulting behind the scenes activity was one factor which helped Roy Gillett get the Everyman programme set up. So there is hope.
The fact is, it’s difficult to do astrology on the media. I think that the recent BBC1 programme, A Date With Fate, worked quite well, with astrologers like Bernard Eccles, Jonathan Cainer and Marjorie Orr doing couples’ charts in a mildly quiz show format. I tend to be more involved in programmes about astrology. There were two documentaries I made about two years ago which are currently showing on the Learning and Discovery channel. Both of them set out to be very similar; one of them (in a series called Empire of the Sun) was hacked around, all of the astrologers were dropped except me, and what I said was taken out of context – it’s a rather silly programme. But the other one presents what all the astrologers who were interviewed said, completely straight. They speak for themselves, and it’s absolutely fine.
I would like to see more intelligent discussion of astrology. One of the reasons I’m focusing my PhD on contemporary astrology is that a lot of journalists phone up and ask if astrology is becoming more successful and more popular, and if so why. Most people assume that it is indeed becoming more popular, and people outside astrology will assume that the reason is that it is a replacement for religion. The churches are emptying, the theory runs, so people turn to tarot, paganism, mother goddesses, and astrology, and so on. So one reason why I’m doing the PhD is to look at those questions, which have arisen out of journalistic interviews.
What I’m keen to do is to explain astrology, not defend it blindly. I don’t want to be like politicians who unquestioningly follow the party line. I like to make sure that if astrology is criticised, it’s criticised intelligently rather than unintelligently. I can’t defend astrology uncritically, because in my mind I’m much too tangled up with all the complexities and complications of different positions on astrology. But I can explain it, and to explain astrologers’ positions, and also to explain the anti-astrology position. So the approach I try and take is a neutral one, actually, of looking at both positions equally. I think that’s fair enough, because the astrological position – if explained properly – is a lot stronger than it’s usually represented. And the anti-astrology position contains a lot of flaws and weaknesses.
What the anti-astrologers usually do is set up straw men. That’s a very useful phrase. The critics of astrology will say, ‘Of course, astrology relies a lot on the Barnum effect’ (where you can say anything and people will agree with it). But the concept of the ‘straw man’ is one that is used by such sceptics along with the Barnum effect. The straw man is a rhetorical device in which, in criticising something, the critic caricatures it and then knocks down the caricature.
So if you criticise critics for putting up a straw man they will get a little flustered, because you have used their language. The classic straw man, of course, is that the constellations have moved on, so your birth sign is not your real birth sign. That does have relevance, because if you are using a sidereal zodiac – as some astrologers do – there are problems there about what we do with tropical astrology. But given that tropical astrology is based on the seasons, precession is irrelevant. It’s an irrelevant argument.
I want the media to have access to the best astrologers – if they are going to have astrologers explaining astrology on the media it should be people who can do it articulately and who know what they are talking about. The AA sometimes receives several requests a week for astrologers for different purposes. Our policy is not to recommend particular individuals but to provide them with a list of names of the people who are experienced in the relevant field and leave the researchers to talk to them. Sometimes they require an astrologer in a particular location, which narrows it down more. We also have to recommend people who can perform on the media. If we don’t then the media won’t call us back. If it’s a low key affair I’ll recommend people who are inexperienced in the hope that they might build up some experience. But if it’s a high profile television appearance then you can’t afford to waste the journalists’ time, and we need to recommend people who are tried and tested. Recently I recommended Robin Heath to a company that needed an astrologer in West Wales, and the result is that he was recommended for other TV work and has proved that he is cool and articulate in front of the cameras.
Q: On the issue of what astrologers should and shouldn’t look at. John Frawley wrote something after the crash in Paris where Diana died: “.if there was a rush to study these charts (i.e. charts for Diana, Dodi and the crash) and the paparazzi rushing to photograph the wreckage, it is a subtlety that escapes me. This was not a time when one could be proud to be a part of the astrological community.
A: That’s a sweeping statement but it is partly true. On the day following the crash I had several e-mails from astrologers who claimed triumphantly that her death had vindicated their particular techniques. There was one astrologer who was using it to try and sell his rectification program, which was in particularly poor taste.
But if you are an astrologer, you want to look at a horoscope; you want to know why something happened. So for me the issue is whether you do it with humanity or not. If you just sit around thinking, ‘Wow, look at that! She had that transit, and she was killed!’ – I think that’s not being human. But if you are concentrating on an understanding of the situation and you are remembering compassion for the individuals concerned then it is another matter. I think also, just a little period while the dead are buried should be observed.
At the 1997 AA Conference, we had to manage the situation on a practical level. It seemed to me that, in the country as a whole, probably about half the population were profoundly moved by her death, and half wasn’t. But the half that wasn’t kept quiet, because they were afraid of being beaten up! I should think that, amongst astrologers, probably a greater proportion of people were moved by Diana’s death than in the population as a whole, because she was such a mythical, archetypal figure, and astrologers love myths and archetypes. So with the AA Conference, it was a delicate situation to manage. We had to give some space to that. Quite a few speakers wanted to look at her chart, and asked me in the week before the Conference about this – about whether this was OK or not. My advice was basically, ‘Just do it with respect’. So we cancelled lectures for the time of the funeral, and afterwards we said, ‘Right – that’s it; that’s over now.’
I think that astrologers need compassion no less than anyone else who works with people. The issue is much sharper in the area of consultancy, and I occasionally get letters from people who are very distressed at what clumsy astrologers have told them. If you don’t have compassion then you shouldn’t be working with people.
I wrote a long article on Diana myself in the Journal – and in that, I tried to keep the humanity to the front of it because I was among those who was deeply moved by her death in a way which completely surprised me. I spent a long time trying to analyse my reactions and work out why I felt as I did But a lot of the writing that is still being done on Diana has tended to focus on ‘Does her death prove one technique or another?’, or ‘Does it prove that she was born at 2.15 am or 7.45 pm?’. To me, that is astrology of the most boring kind. It’s just pointless number-crunching because, frankly, when you are into that kind of astrology you can prove anything. You could prove that she was born in 1326 if you wanted to.
That’s just like an article published in the 50’s in the Quarterly, which proved that Nijinsky was the reincarnation of a sparrow! You can prove anything, because an astrological proof doesn’t require any independent verification.
Another thing John Frawley said – I think about the same issue – was that the ancient astrologers would have had success in predicting her death. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he did speak reverently about the ancients. Which of course is not true. There are no reliable, fool-proof techniques for predicting death. The prediction of death, astrologically, is a highly subjective business, and there can be no rules for predicting death, because if they applied in medieval times they would apply now – but now we have a much longer life-expectancy, and the planetary cycles have not stretched.
Q: Do you think there ever was a ‘Golden Age’ of astrology? Or do you think it’s always been something of a hybrid and a makeshift?
A: No, there was never a ‘Golden Age’. Golden Ages don’t exist – except in our consciousness. Sometime when we were young, or just before we were born, there was a Golden Age. That is a standard part of the human psyche; it’s the way the brain works, to somehow construct ages on the periphery of our consciousness.
You know, astrology comes and goes, it changes its form depending on its culture. In the West, the late 17th and 18th centuries were not good times for astrology, because it almost died out amongst educated people; but there have also been times when it has thrived. I think the current idea that there was a Golden Age when astrologers were much better than they are now is not true. I don’t think more technique or getting back to ancient astrology necessarily makes you a better astrologer. It’s who you are that makes you a good astrologer, exactly as who you are can make you a good doctor, or politician, or actor. Technique is subsidiary to who you are. That’s obvious.
At the same time, I’m a big supporter of the rediscovery of ancient astrology – but for me, it’s an historical exercise as much as an astrological one. My own astrology tends to remain fairly simple. I’m quite happy just to know that someone has a Saturn transit to their Sun; I don’t necessarily want to know any more than that. I used to love Dennis Bartlett, who had joined the Lodge in the 1920s and was still lecturing in the 1980s. His lectures used to consist largely of statements that he never used Pluto because it didn’t work (it was discovered after he learnt astrology) and that reading horoscopes should be as simple as possible. That’s what I believe: just focus on the essentials and don’t clutter your brain with excess baggage. You might end up with a lot of information about the chart but lose sight of its significance.
Q: Lilly said, ‘The more holy thou art.. the better astrology you will do’. It sounds as if you are saying that.
A: Well, yes and no. I’m being a bit Piscean here. Because I wouldn’t want to bring ideas of God or spiritual hierarchies into it. And I have seen that concept used by individual astrologers to justify their own rightness – saying, they are the astrologers who are closest to heaven, and you’d better listen because they are right. People who talk about spiritual evolution in astrology invariably assume that they are more evolved whereas I would say the opposite is true: they’re just more arrogant and self-centred.
I think it’s down to the total mix: the personality of the astrologer, and the astrology they are doing for a specific purpose (stock-market prediction being a different matter from counselling). I would say that with counselling, it’s much better to be able to empathise with the client – that’s how I’d put it, rather than in terms of closeness to God.
In ‘The Considerations of Guido Bonatti’ (published by William Lilly and available from Regulus Press), the first consideration is to observe what it is that moves a person to propose or ask a question of an astrologer – “where you must take notice of the three motions: the first of the Mind, when a man is stirred up in his thoughts; the second of the appearance of the celestial bodies; the third of the free-will which disposes him to the very act of enquiry”. The second consideration is, “when he proposes to take the artist’s judgement of things past, present, or to come, he should first with a devout spirit pray unto the Lord”.
So Bonatti’s first two aphorisms talk about the astrologer’s need for self-understanding and to understand the client’s needs and motives. If you are the astrologer – also posing questions of horoscopes, looking at horoscopes, it’s implied that you should also pray – or, look at your own motives. I think that’s the basis for what I’ve been saying – that technique is not sufficient. Astrologers need sympathy, understanding and compassion.
So going back to the Diana question, I think astrologers trying to use such a recent tragedy to justify their own techniques is to call into doubt their own motives The same issue came up with the Dunblane shootings, where all the data for the victims was available, and we faced the question of whether to publish these in Transit. In the end what we did was to say, ‘you can write to Caroline Gerard in Scotland and get the data’. We felt that we couldn’t not make the data available, because astrology is about looking at horoscopes and data. Astrology looks at events, and a lot of events which happen are actually destructive ones. So we can’t just pretend that things don’t happen. In the hands of an astrologer like Dennis Elwell such events can be endowed with meaning. He gave an extraordinary lecture at the joint AA/Manchester Astrology Group Conference in 1997, looking at Dunblane and some of the similar massacres which have happened. He was revealing the curious astrological structure of the universe – which underpins such things. The point about such events is, you’ve got precise data for very precise events; and this can shed light on the psychic skeleton of the universe. Dennis was able to take these events and show the meaning, the cosmic patterns, whereas a lesser astrologer might just engage in pointless number-crunching – which I think is bad astrology and an insult to the people concerned. It’s OK if you’re an astrologer yourself, you know, because you understand the philosophy. In 1984 I had Uranus transiting square my Sun, and I was in near-fatal car crash in Tunisia. At the time the car crashed, Uranus was squaring the midheaven for the crash (and so on – lots of good astrology). Through a series of coincidences, I’d not been in hospital very long in Tunisia – only a few hours, I think – when Charles Harvey had calculated the chart for the accident, and phoned me up; and he said what a wonderful chart it was! That was really nice, because I’m an astrologer, and I understood that what he was saying was shorthand for the fact that my destiny was at a turning point and that I should understand what was happening. The end result was actually that I decided that I should get out of my rut before Uranus came along and kicked me again, so I agreed to move out of London, a decision I had been resisting.
Anyway, when I got back to England, I got really fed up with people saying, ‘How are you? You alright?’ I mean, it’s nice to get a bit of sympathy, but in the end I just got tired of it. The first night I went down to the Lodge, people were saying, ‘Oh, great! Wonderful chart! You had a wonderful accident!’ And that was nice, because I’d had enough compassion and sympathy. So it was OK for other astrologers to say to me, ‘Great, you broke your collarbone and your ribs and you were in great pain and you almost died because of the Uranus square’ – but that’s amongst ourselves, that’s amongst those of us who understand the philosophy. I just think we have to be careful when we talk about people who don’t share our philosophy, or don’t understand the weird universe which we inhabit. Also, of course, the fact is that I had recovered. I might not have been so happy if I hadn’t.
Q: What would you regard as being your greatest success in your astrological work?
A: It was writing in the Daily Mail in December 1988 that 1989 would be the year that the Cold War ended. For which I was spontaneously awarded a £60 per week pay rise by the Daily Mail – which was unheard of.
What I particularly liked about that one was the headline I chose – ‘1989: The Year the World will be Turned Upside Down’. That was the title of a book by Christopher Hill about the English Revolution – which occurred around the time of the 1648 Uranus/Neptune conjunction. So what I was anticipating was a repeat of that. There was a newspaper called the Sunday Correspondent, and at the end of 1989 they looked back and chose the headline ‘1989 – the Year the World was Turned Upside Down’, a headline obviously written by somebody who is also familiar with Christopher Hill’s book. What I think I predicted there, fundamentally, was the headline in the Sunday Correspondent!
Of course, the end of Communism was predicted independently by Michael Baigent – who forecast very exactly the revolution in the Soviet Union in the AA Journal in 1980. The same forecast is found in Liz Greene’s The Outer Plants and Their Cycles. Dane Rudhyar also predicted the crisis in Communism, based on the Uranus/Neptune conjunction, as did Andre Barbault, not to mention Katina Thedossiou, who was a popular Sunsign astrologer back in the 50’s and 60’s: she predicted it in a lecture in the Astrological Lodge, back in the 50’s.
So that’s a notable astrological success for astrologers, and more than makes up for the fact that astrologers failed to predict the Second World War, and have never been allowed to forget it. After all, they did predict the fall of Communism when Mikhail Gorbachev, the CIA and everybody else failed. That’s a quite remarkable success and, to return to my earlier comments, is the sort of thing I’d expect from a good Natural astrology.
The other two successes that I find interesting – they were the most precise – were two by- election forecasts, both published in Old Moore’s Almanac. One was the forecast of Roy Jenkins’ by-election victory in Glasgow Hillhead in 1982; and the other was the forecast of a Liberal Democrat victory in the Eastbourne by-election which I think was 1989 or 90. The first one was couched in terms of ‘There will be an SDP by-election victory’; the second one, ‘The Liberal Democrats will be in a strong position to win a by-election’. One was written about six months in advance, the other about eighteen months in advance. So both were very exact – to the day – and were published well in advance of the trains of events which led up to the elections. The Eastbourne by-election happened because the incumbent MP was assassinated by the IRA; so a lot had to happen in order that there was an election on that date. It was the first major Liberal Democrat victory after the party was formed.
The Liberal Democrat forecast was easy, because the Liberal Democrat chart’s 11th house Moon is conjunct Spica – which basically means good luck with popular opinion in legislative matters. And there was a new Moon on that, on the day of the Eastbourne by- election. So eighteen months in advance I saw that, and thought, ‘Hmm – good day to win a by-election!’ Paddy Ashdown was reputedly impressed!