Note: This article originally appeared in the German astrology journal Meridian, translated into German by Maria Henzler. More information about Chiron and the minor planets is at this link.
When Astrology Listens
When I began working with a client named Orca, she wanted information about her career and had decided to contact an astrologer. She is a highly creative, intelligent, and intuitive person with diverse skills and strong leanings toward serving others, so she was understandably unhappy doing software product development. In graduate school, her dream had been to develop a technology that would allow deaf people to communicate in a written form of sign language, which is a language in its own right, apart from English. But instead, she was trapped in an office, doing boring research.
Illustration, "GenEx Star," artist unknown.
I started with a question: "What was going on when you were about ten months old?" Perhaps this seems like a strange question for a career reading. Here is the story she told.
At that time, Orca was a toddler and could not walk on two feet but could amble along the wall using her hands. She was the first child and was home alone with her mother. One day, Orca smelled some blueberry muffins baking in the oven. She wanted a muffin, so she toddled along the wall toward the oven and, arriving there, pressed her hands against it. Her hands burned and stuck to the side of the hot oven. She screamed, and her mother, who had stepped out of the room, ran in and scraped Orca's hands off the oven with a spatula.
The family did not have a car; they had just moved to a San Diego suburb, which was fairly empty during the workday, and they knew none of their neighbors. But the mother picked up her child and ran outside the house. At that moment, a woman was getting into her car right out in front. Mother said, "My baby has been burned. Help us!"
The woman responded that she was just now on her way to see a dermatologist who was also a burn specialist, and she drove them to the doctor. The specialist saw Orca immediately. It happened that he was doing research on contact skin burns for the benefit of napalm victims in Vietnam (this was during the Vietnam War). He explained that there were two ways to treat contact burns: the traditional way that involved breaking the blisters but could send a small child into shock and possibly be deadly, and an experimental method that he was developing. Mother opted for the experimental method; Orca's hands healed with full dexterity and sensitivity and only slight, barely visible scarring.
I had asked her about that time in her life because she has Chiron retrograde in the 6th house, five degrees from the 7th-house cusp. When she was ten months old, Chiron crossed the 7th-house angle, and that seemed interesting and possibly important; I was guided to ask about this mainly by my curiosity, which is intuitive. This transit had turned out to be a life-shaping event, a miracle that she would remember and acknowledge all her days.
Had I not asked Orca this question, our experience of working together would have been rather different.
Even if two people had the same chart, we know that they would still experience the same astrology in significantly different ways. Using the chart to ask questions and then engaging in an active listening process gives both the astrologer and the client clues about the particular way the client is experiencing and expressing the energy of their astrology -- but without the prejudice of telling the client who they are or what they were supposed
to have experienced. This allows clients to be themselves and to open up, enabling them to actively develop trust in the process, because they are being heard.
This process gives the astrologer a chance to see how the theoretical and static device of the natal chart works when you add the energy dynamics of moving time, real-life circumstances, and apparent destiny. It affords an opportunity to plot the trajectory of an individual's lifetime. Most important, it establishes a situation where the astrologer does not have to make speculative statements about a client's life based only on their chart. Rather, the important information comes from
the client's history, ideas, and perceptions, while the astrologer's questioning process is guided by the chart. Then, the resulting interpretation is guided by both the client and
This process has the added benefit of removing the need to overcome a client's possible skepticism about astrology, because there is no guesswork involved. Good questions are strong statements in themselves and tend to validate the intelligence of astrology and the astrologer -- and the client.
I work with Chiron extensively, so I usually check Chiron's transits to itself -- the (waxing) square, opposition, (waning) square, and return to its natal position -- whichever apply, depending upon the client's age. I also check Chiron's transits over the four angles, and I note whatever else seems significant or looks interesting, such as the Moon. I'll often check the Saturn return and the Uranus opposition, if these apply to the client. When assessing the timing of a transit, I generally ask about the seasons of the exact contact. Many transits of Chiron, Saturn, and Uranus are exact three times, so I might ask about the spring of 1971, the Christmas season of 1971, and the summer of 1972. People tend to remember seasons but not exact months anyway, so this works well.
Other times (as with Orca), I will be more specific, sometimes asking clients to check a given day or week against their diary or old appointment book; however, experience has demonstrated that the most meaningful manifestations of transits occur over the course of a season or a year.
When checking transits, I prefer not to ask "what happened?" as if there were one big event, but rather, "What was happening at this time?" Then I listen to the basic circumstances, such as who their friends were at school, what was going on in the family, with lovers, their job, and so on. If there are significant events (there usually are at those times), they will come out in the discussion. Sometimes a client will say that "nothing happened," so I will ask whether they remember their address, and work from there: What was the neighborhood like? Who were your classmates? Who was your lover? What was happening with Mom and Dad? Often, they will spontaneously remember a very striking event or bring one up in the next session. Meanwhile, what you learn about the family dog can give you a lot of insight into how the client processes reality.
In career work, you can reverse this technique and also track the résumé against transits -- a convenient and effective tool; then you can ask how the client felt about each job, which will tell you a lot.
In the first session, which is more like a casual interview, I might cover five experiences associated with transits; by the time the meeting is through, I will have a pretty good hunch about at least one theme of the client's life -- elements of plot and story line add up to a theme, if you listen. I book new clients for three sessions, so we will have time during the next two sessions to understand the meaning of the events and experiences, and very naturally we will work our way into the present. After three meetings, we have usually done some very good work, and the client has gotten far more from the process than expected -- and we have established a solid working relationship for the future. When the client comes back the following month or year, we have a good foundation to build upon.
Not every client is thrilled with the idea of multiple sessions at first, but most people are very open to this approach (which is detailed on my Web page). If the client questions this as we are scheduling the initial appointment, I explain that we are past the days of instant fortunetelling, and more solid processes are now available to astrologers for doing their work here in the modern world. Of course, careful listening is not new, but it's the best healing and the greatest comfort that you can offer most people. These days, many clients know that; most of my clients want something halfway between astrology and therapy, minus the technical jargon and the Ph.D.
Unfortunately, listening is usually incidental to the traditional astrology process: The astrologer is there to "give the client information" and "do a reading of the chart," which means doing most of the talking. This can be very productive and useful to some clients. However, I started working with Chiron early on; most of us who work with Chiron understand that this process involves research of a newer planet, so we had better ask questions if we want a clue to what's up with the person.
But what do the clues add up to? How could Orca's experience at ten months of age influence her career choice 34 years later? Other transits revealed much, but this first one set the tone, establishing a firm basis for her true values. With this on the table, we could have a serious talk about her
rather than just discussing her ambitions.
If we had begun with a detailed discussion of Orca's career, the burn incident might never have emerged, and a major clue would have been missed. She said recently that she probably would not have mentioned the event, had I not asked her about what happened when she was ten months old. This kind of early miracle is a defining moment in a person's life, even though they may be very young and not fully recall every detail. In Orca's case, something terrible happened, but the Universe was ready, with an expert physician nearby and an amazing synchronicity to transport the child to him. Had the burn occurred a minute or even 30 seconds later, the woman would have already driven off to the doctor, leaving Orca and her mother stranded there in front of the house in a lonely neighborhood. Treated by a less competent doctor, Orca might have died or been disfigured, or disabled, for life.
Notice that, in this one experience, we see many of the themes of Chiron emerge spontaneously: a wound; an injury to the hands (given Chiron's associations with the hands -- in Greek, Chiron,
who was a centaur, or half-man/half-horse, means "one who has hands"1); the emergence of a healer and physician who entered into a relationship with Orca when Chiron was sitting on her 7th-house cusp, the most direct relationship angle. The doctor was a humanitarian who was helping the Vietnamese (a Chiron-in-Pisces theme); he was a maverick because he was doing unconventional, experimental work -- "maverick" being the first Chiron keyword, given to it by an astronomer. And Orca's doctor was a master healer, like the centaur Chiron himself, which corresponds well to Orca's retrograde Chiron in the 6th house. The doctor later claimed that his experience with Orca contributed to his research; this touches on another Chiron theme: the benefits of suffering.
Chiron is associated with synchronicities, which Carl Jung called "acausal" but deeply meaningful associations of otherwise unrelated events (in religious terms, miracles). Each time I reflect on the fact that a ride to the doctor was waiting outside Orca's front door
, I am amazed. I believe that synchronicity is a merging or meeting of two orders of reality: In a sense, it's the intersection of the spiritual world with the material world. Because Chiron is understood to represent the "bridge" between these two orders of reality, I observe that its prominence in a chart can and does often indicate precisely such a conscious intersection of realities. In my Chiron process work, I follow this hypothesis and specifically use Chiron's transits to natal chart elements to search out synchronicities that reveal important facts about the person's life and growth. I recall the case of a client who was drugged in a bar and raped twice in her life -- both times close to the Chiron squares to her natal Chiron position, separated by 20 years. (From this, we can see that Chiron transits can have very different manifestations.)
How this process works is another question. Here is my theory. In a time-based model, Saturn, "Kronos," is the structure of rational or chronological time; Chiron, or what you could call "chiros," is the gateway beyond rational time, or rational perception of time, into another sequence (sometimes called aboriginal dreamtime). Therefore, when there are synchronicities or anomalies in time, I propose that we look to Chiron first.
The overarching theme of Chiron is the kind of event that appears at first to wound us but actually teaches us vital lessons and, in some important way, empowers us.
Orca explains: "A lot of those sorts of things happened to us when I was growing up because of the kind of lifestyle we led. We were often in a very precarious position. When you're in precarious situations a lot, you have plenty of opportunities for something miraculous to save you. When you take care of everything all the time, you don't have those same opportunities. Things were always happening to us where, at the last minute, something would show up."
I asked Orca recently whether it was fair to say that the pivotal event that transpired when she was ten months old taught her faith. "I don't know," she replied. "The word 'faith' makes you think of mindless belief, which has been hard for me to identify with." But, she added, she's learned that, in life, "You just keep going forward even if things look really bad. And even when things look bad, you leave room to be surprised."
"Some would say that is the definition of faith," I replied.
"When I was doing paragliding, I was thinking a lot about this kind of thing," she responded. "Many people see paragliding as an exciting adventure sport. To me, it was like a philosophical or spiritual act. You can't do anything more dramatic than leaping off a cliff; you're taking your whole body, and you have to run with all your force off a hill, straight out into the void. You just have to run, because if you don't run with all your trust, it's not going to work. The wings are going to collapse, and you're going to fall down. If there is a cliff under you and you don't put all your energy and all your trust into the act of running, then you can easily hurt yourself. If you run with a pure heart, then you just run right off the edge of the cliff and fly."
Orca has both Uranus and Pluto in the 12th house: Jeffrey Wolf Green has aptly pointed out that either position denotes a relationship to the abyss. In Pluto: The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul,
he suggests that these people are in one of three possible positions: They have either pulled way back from the edge or they have taken the leap. Or, they are standing there, deciding what to do,2 which is where I first found Orca in her career.
"We talk about things like leaping into the chasm or taking a leap of faith," she continued, "as if they are only metaphors, things you can't physically do with your body. It was very interesting to experience this with my whole body, not just something that was a metaphor. I am very afraid of heights. I can't stand on a chair to change a light bulb. I have to ask someone to do it, because I get dizzy with vertigo. So, it was not really easy for me to do paragliding, but I found it to be very powerful. This is more like the feeling that I had a lot when we were children, this feeling of just going into the void and not having any idea what would come out of it -- allowing for the possibility that you'll die and allowing for the possibility that something new will happen."
At the conclusion of our work, we had not resolved her career issue, but we had raised a lot of interesting questions.
When I talked to Orca a year later, she reminded me that, at the end of our last session, I had mentioned seeing the image of a synagogue in her chart.3 She explained that much had changed in her life. She had quit her job after deciding that the work she had done in her career did not really help people. She had met a man and, as part of that relationship, converted to Judaism, her father's religion; she and this man had gotten married. She did not have another job, but her life circumstances had allowed her to do a one-month, full-time art intensive and then pursue her interest in religion, which was cultivated in childhood; most of the family friends when she was a child had been Buddhists of various kinds. She is now studying Sanskrit.
Regarding observance of the Sabbath as a devout Jew, she said that it is interesting to see what happens when, one day a week, you "don't try to change the world."
I asked her whether she was thinking about becoming a rabbi. "That's what everyone asks me," she said. It was an obvious consideration. Knowing her story -- and her retrograde Chiron in Pisces in the 6th house -- I would say that she's already there.++
is the root of the words "chiropractic," which means adjusting the body with the hands; "chiromancy," which means reading the hands; and "chirurgerie," the French word for surgery. According to Swiss astrologer and ancient Greek scholar Dieter Koch, Chiron comes from one of the oldest roots in the Greek language.
2. Jeffrey Wolf Green, Pluto: The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul, Vol. I,
St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1985, pp. 215216.
3. I did not remember saying this to her. I do remember noticing that Mars and Venus are placed in Sagittarius on either side of Orca's IC, and I recall (inwardly) associating this with Adrienne Rich's 1982 essay on women's Jewish identity, "Split at the Root" (republished in her book, Blood, Bread and Poetry)
; however, I did not mention this to Orca. Rich's essay explores the task of dealing with a multicultural reality in a cookie-cutter world, at a time when people cannot say definitively who or what they are. Rich tells the story of the search that led her to realize that she was a Jewish lesbian after being raised as a heterosexual Gentile. Orca's chart and her questing, original, intellectual spirit reminded me of Rich and that reference.