Planet Waves
New York, Friday, May 18, 2012

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Hello Readers: We are making today's lead article from Planet Waves available to all of our readers. This is an exciting proposal for how astrology can update its files and do a better job training its professionals. Subscribers have already seen this as part of today's premium edition. Please pass it on to anyone with an interest in astrology. Here is the permalink. Thank you. -- efc

Beyond Astrology

Dear Friend and Reader:

Next week, Planet Waves plans to provide continuous coverage of the United Astrology Conference (UAC) in New Orleans. Most of what we offer will be on our audio channel, Planet Waves FM. I will be interviewing the most interesting people I can round up and put on the air, in one-on-one conversations and roundtable-type discussions.

Planet Waves
We're trying to figure out where this photo comes from. It's all over the Internet as free wallpaper. It's the crescent Earth from space, with the Sun angular behind it -- though it may be a composite.
I will send out a series of mailings to remind you of what we're doing. I anticipate conference coverage to begin Wednesday evening.

UAC is a collaborative venture between four different organizations: AFAN (Association for Astrological Networking), ISAR (International Society for Astrological Research), NCGR (National Council for Geocosmic Research, Inc.) and CVA (the Council of Vedic Astrology). It's not an annual conference -- it's a big-number production that happens about once every four years. I'm guessing that this year's conference will be attended by about 1,500 people. That's more than enough to get some energy moving. The event seems to have started as the United Astrology Congress in the mid-1980s.

If you're planning to be at the conference, don't forget to stop by and visit our table. We'll figure out a way to make it visible (we have Planet Waves FM banners). Note that we've been writing about aspects of the conference for weeks, which you can review on our UAC page.

Astrology conferences can be fun and educational, even if they are a bit overwhelming for some people at times. I know many astrologers who have learned a lot traveling the conference circuit, attending those 75-minute lectures and panels. There is a seemingly endless diversity of subject matter. What we don't see is what's missing, including topics and teaching modalities.

I come from an alternative educational background. The high school I attended was based on the philosophy of John Dewey, which was rich in participatory modes of learning, learning through experience and students educating one another. This is how to create an integrated learning process, making the most of the many minds who are gathered around the same theme or subject. Every day at school was interesting and different from the prior one.

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Astrology draws on knowledge from many different fields, including physics and astronomy. This astrolabe -- which is a tool for making astronomical calculations -- was crafted in the 15th century by the French instrument-maker Jean Fusoris (ca. 1365-1436).
Astrology is an unusual branch of knowledge in that doing it well requires a person to draw upon so many different fields. To name a few, in addition to astrology itself, we have to know about: astronomy, psychology, counseling, healing, metaphysics, some mathematics (less, now that there are computers), mythology, current events, history, relationships, sexuality and medicine. You would think that might take 20 years in a Greek academy.

To do astrology well, you can't just know about these things -- it's necessary to integrate them into one another to put them into practical use. Speaking of practical, I had been going to conferences since 1995 and had never noticed a class focused on communications. After several years of lobbying the community, I was offered space to teach a writing class (sponsored by AFAN), which will be followed up by an Internet marketing/networking class taught by Donna Woodwell. AFAN is also sponsoring a media and public relations panel. These are excellent steps in the right direction.

While we're on the topic, I would like to make a few suggestions for how conferences might contribute to better astrological education. I propose the following programs or concepts, which could be taught in a diversity of direct participation and workshop formats. It's important to have the right format for the right kind of study. Some things work fine as lectures; others require a more roundtable or seminar-style approach.

Invite non-astrologer therapists to talk about how to work in a counseling room setting. Nearly all contemporary astrologers serve as counselors, even though most don't call themselves that. We're expected to help our clients through divorces, personal losses, illnesses, working out relationships, bouts of depression. Counseling comes with the astrological territory. I propose that we recruit some of the more innovative voices from progressive therapy projects and explore working with people as people rather than as extensions of their chart.

We need a real conversation about ethics. In medicine, the practitioner is supposed to try to do no harm. In matters of ethics in astrology, is it enough for the astrologer to suggest that the client consider the ethical considerations of his or her choice (such as a financial investment)? Should the astrologer actually decline to offer certain astrological advice and timing that might cause harm? Should the astrologer turn down clients seeking astrological advice to better exploit someone or the environment? Is it ethical to write about the charts of famous people, without their consent? These, and other questions, are fodder for our real conversation about ethics.

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Astrology needs innovators of therapy to help us figure out how to best work with people. This is Fritz Perls, one of the creators of Gestalt therapy, working in group process, ca 1970s. Perhaps it's my background with Gestalt therapy, but I have always thought of the astrology chart and especially transits resonating with the immediacy and holistic quality of this modality.
Open up the discussion of modern astrology. During the past 20 years, the profession has developed a fixation on ancient astrology. The presence of informed scholars and greatly improved translations of old texts is a beautiful thing -- beyond amazing, if you think about it. The reverence for tradition is honorable, healing something at the roots of the crisis that contemporary astrology finds itself in. Yet the solar system has changed profoundly in those same few decades. If you came to any astrology conference hoping to find out more about the newly discovered planets (Eris, Quaoar, Varuna, Sedna, Chiron and the centaurs, for example) you would typically find token representation. On a related theme -- we can do a lot more with deep-space points (galaxies, pulsars, quasars). There are some great teachers who are doing alive, original work we can all benefit from.

Cultivate better Sun sign writers. Sun sign writers -- that is, the people who write the horoscopes in newspapers and magazines -- are astrology's most visible practitioners. Though many astrologers look askance at, or openly put down this modality, in fact, we reach more people than all of them combined. My theory is to put the very best astrology writers into positions where a broad audience is involved. Sun sign astrology depends on two skills -- interpretation and communication. It's where the proverbial rubber meets the road -- what makes astrology worth all the bother. Conferences can offer classes on how to write better Sun sign columns, tapping into the truly amazing potential of this form of astrology to make a difference in people's lives.

Focus on sex. Many clients have pressing questions about sex, and the complex sexual histories they are sometimes working through -- and there are few places to actually have the conversation. An astrologer is a logical place to go, but how many of us have specific training or advanced knowledge in this area? How can we create a safe space for the conversation? What if you're discussing sexuality with a client who is making your mouth water? How do you help someone figure out what is healthy for them, if that's what you're called upon to do? If you're not gay yourself, how do you work with someone who is coming out of the closet? There is a fantastic on-the-ground movement of sex educators in the United States, many of whom are already on the speaking circuit -- and we need to tap this community to educate astrologers. We need some of these speakers as keynote presenters.

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I nominate Tristan Taormino to be the first sex education keynote speaker for the astrology community. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wesleyan, the niece of Thomas Pynchon, and a fantastic, enlightened sex education presenter. Publicity photo.
It's time to provide astrologers with education about non-traditional relationship models. I have yet to see an astrology textbook that mentions polyamory, non-monogamous or other non-traditional relationship models. Yet many people are interested in these things, and lots of others are doing them without any special knowledge. It is readily available -- another field with an active speaker's circuit.

Are astrologers working from knowledge or belief? Do prominent Aquarian placements and/or prominent Uranus really indicate an enlightened, politically left ‘progressive'? Where are the statistical studies? We may need to put a disclaimer on the label. That said, reading a chart is a spontaneous and original experience, with all the factors taken in their unique context. It's possible to teach something about how to do this.

Explore the use of astrology as a self-discovery tool. Most of our astrology is other-centered, yet a great many people use astrology as a self-discovery tool. It makes an excellent one -- a kind of self-study spirituality game. Astrology is just one such path, though many others on other journeys might benefit from the self-reflexive learning from their charts. Here is an opportunity for astrology to cross-pollinate with other branches of modern spirituality.

How about real depth psychology training? Everyone agrees that astropsychobabble is not enough. The principles of depth psychology can be imparted in a series of classes, and study continued independently. For this I would propose non-astrological presenters, followed up by the most open-minded astrological presenters.

Working within the client's religious framework. Astrologers work with people from diverse religious backgrounds. Religion is all the rage these days -- and deep down, everyone has one. When you're working with a devout Catholic, someone who is passionately Jewish or someone who is Hindu, it helps to be able to speak their spiritual language and work from within their frame of reference. It helps to understand the way they were taught metaphysical laws when they were a child. I propose that UAC and other conferences create a comparative religion track, and learn the role of astrology within the different approaches these religions take.

Planet Waves
Dr. Brian Marsden was director of the Minor Planet Center and helped out astrology many times, providing the first ephemeris of Chiron to astrologer Zane Stein. Marsden died in 2010. Photo by Harold Dorwin.
Get some astronomers on board. Minor planet astrologers (starting with Zane Stein) have a tradition of being friends with astronomers -- and we have learned a lot from one another. Yes, there are actually some astronomers who are intrigued by what we're doing. Astrologers would benefit from hearing about the latest advances in astronomy from the scientists themselves. Our profession has astronomy as its main basis, and this is a field where there has been astonishing growth and development the past 20 or so years. Let's get together!

The environment is in distress -- and we are all impacted by the situation. Just like there is no separating astrology from astronomy, there is no separating what we do from the condition of the Earth. Every single person we work with is impacted in some way, and there is a deep layer of grief that many people experience as we watch the devastation of the planet. Often that comes with a feeling of helplessness, yet this whole condition often drops back as the client's personal affairs occupy the foreground. Many therapy methods encourage people not to think about the world -- only to take care of themselves. We are, fortunately, evolving past a place where that's even possible, and where the distinction is irrelevant.

Astrologers need business training. Every astrology practice is a small business, and it's not so easy to run one of those. What's the best way for someone to organize their business structure, and how do they decide? How do you set up the practice, your office and your schedule? At what point is it a good idea to hire an assistant, and how do you do that? This would be a fantastic full-day intensive, with many topics suitable for lecture sessions.

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Data collection and verification has gone downhill since we lost the magnificent Lois Rodden. Astrology needs to refocus its efforts on data collection, particularly of younger celebrities. Photo from Lois's page on the Astrologer's Memorial.
Create a lavish conference resource center. Imagine a room (like a ballroom or large conference room) with wide tables and a bunch of computers equipped with charting software, ephemerides, dials and other basic tools of the trade -- set up on large tables. This would be staffed by experienced volunteer astrologers who could assist less experienced students with practical guidance and hands-on-the-work training in an informal format. You would be able to get help with your chart, seek tutoring in a special area of interest, learn how to use tools and have an intelligent one-on-one or small group conversation. This idea is stolen directly from John Dewey High School.

Astrological writing will benefit from fact-checking and attribution. Astrology stands halfway between the folk tradition and academic tradition. In folk tradition you can steal outright. In academic tradition, you usually attribute. While much of our knowledge is passed through the ages, some of it came out yesterday. We need to study, develop and teach the different modes of attribution. Also, data verification and collection has gone downhill steadily since the passing of Lois Rodden. This is an art that needs to be revived and honored by being taught.

What is astrology for? How does it work? And why do we use it? In order to use a tool safely, ethically and effectively, it's necessary to understand how it works, and if that's not possible, to be clear with ourselves how we think it works -- and then explore the implications of that. Astrology often takes itself for granted, and rarely reflects on its failures, its shortcomings and its potential as a tool to approach life in a more holistic way.

Planet Waves
Astrology is part of the natural order of life, and could be considered a branch of environmental study. Astrologers would benefit from deepening their knowledge of earthy nature, and also understanding the impact of toxins on the environment. Photo by Eric.
It's time to stop driving astrologers into debt to teach at conferences. Thanks to our subscribers, we at Planet Waves can afford to travel to conferences fully equipped and ready to go -- but many astrologers must put the expenses on a credit card and pay it off. Some conferences pay better than others -- though often presenters run at a significant loss, while the conference itself runs at a profit. If we're going to have presenters already on the circuit or who come from outside our field, we will need to create the budget for that.

Astrologers fancy themselves intelligent people, equipped with one of the most sophisticated analytical tools in existence. Okay then, let's figure this out.

While I'm at UAC I will be looking for people who can shed light on some of these topics, and if they're game, I will share the interviews with you. Don't forget to watch our Daily Astrology & Adventure page as well as Planet Waves FM starting midweek for our coverage of the United Astrology Conference.

Eric Francis

Additional writing: Dale O'Brien.

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