ONCE I COMMITTED to my astrological studies, heaven and earth moved toward me. Teachers arrived, resources became available and I took every step I could toward my goal of doing astrology. Which is to say, I did it, in any form that seemed interesting, morning, noon and night. I took the same approach I had taken with both Student Leader and with covering the global PCB scandal: total devotion.
I was aware that my studies had a foundation. Flo had set me on the astrological path long ago. Even if I hadn’t studied much astrology before this time, I had spent a lot of time with the tarot. I had also spent years working with A Course in Miracles, which is one of the two foundational ingredients of my work with others.
A Course in Miracles trains a person in the basic energetics and mechanics of healing. While written in Christian language, if you have any experience with spiritual traditions, you can see the universal themes. Yet the Course is not a theoretical or thematic work. It is a set of instructions for what to do when you or someone else is in trouble.
The whole purpose of the Course is to guide a person to listen to, and ask help from, their inner teacher. The Course reminds its students over and over to depend less on their strength and more on the strength of that inner teacher. The more you do this, the stronger of a relationship you build with this source, which accesses knowledge and abilities beyond what an individual person is thought to be capable of.
I am trying to avoid religious terminology here, though this is known in Christian language as the Holy Spirit. For the purpose of this work, I will refer to it as the inner teacher. The inner teacher is connected to what many religions call God. This quality or strength or power is accessed within. Everyone’s inner teacher is connected to everyone else’s inner teacher. This accounts for all forms of communication that seem to extend beyond the body.
My personal religion is Quaker, which I recognized at age 14. The Quakers call this thing the inner light. Quakerism is not about God “up there” but rather “in here.”
Other traditions call it Shekinah, which in Kabbalism is the indwelling feminine presence of God. Different traditions have other names and concepts, which all amount to the same thing. I believe that the inner teacher is an inherently human quality. Not everyone has the same access; as the Course says, “The Holy Spirit’s voice is as loud as your willingness to listen.”
So when I was doing astrology, I was aware all the time that I was working in a modality. It was akin to learning music, or learning how to paint. Astrology is just a method; the content is up to the practitioner. That includes the seeming subject matter content (what you think your particular chart is about, or what style of astrology you’re using), but it also includes the underlying theme of the work: your inherent message.
I had seen through my experiences beginning in New Jersey that listening pays off, and so do faith and forgiveness; and this becomes the strongest form of personal witness. Learning is attained through example, observation and repetition. There is a quote from the Course that I wish I could find, though I do remember it. It says something like: the Course is not what you read in this book; rather, it is what you learn from experiencing miracles repeatedly.
People have a hard time with this word, because it’s hyped as walking on water or turning Pepsi into wine. In truth, it counts as any expression of love. Sometimes, an expression of love can seem to violate the known laws of time and space; of cause and effect. That is what makes them seem a little (or a lot) beyond what we think of as normal.
For those considering doing A Course in Miracles, get ready to be challenged. I promise, though, that the reward is far greater than the effort. You will, however, have to begin by leaving any trace of social justice warrior that you have at the door. The book is written in masculine pronouns, and at times in fairly thick religious terminology. You will need to use your skill of reading beyond the language itself, and getting at the essence of the ides. For those who want an introduction, I have 13 episodes of a radio program I did a few years back. Poke around the website or in Google and you will find them all.
Joe Trusso, Holistic Therapist
My second foundational experience was my work with a therapist and teacher named Joe Trusso. I first met Joe a few weeks after the PCB transformers blew up at SUNY New Paltz, when my life was at a low point. I am aware that I have a gift for teachers and guides to come into my life when I need them. Joe was part of that karma. Nearly thirty years on, I consider him a trusted mentor, and someone who has passed me the flame of a very old helping tradition.
Joe is not a therapist in the academic sense. He is part of what I call the folk art of therapy. Its practitioners don’t usually have a Ph.D. in anything, or if they do, maybe it’s something like literature or math. Their day job might be toll collector, or guitar teacher. This is not about a person’s professional qualifications, though they can come in handy. Rather, it’s about their ability to guide another person without taking away their individuality or power of choice. The mentor’s role is to remind someone that they possess the freedom to choose, one of the points made emphatically — endlessly — by A Course in Miracles.
I had worked with Joe consistently from our first meeting in 1992 right up till that time, and I never stopped learning from him.
So, on the day that I took my first professional astrology client, I had far more background in spiritual process and a kind of informal therapy process than I did in astrology per se — and I consider astrology my least important tool or ability.
What I learned from both Joe and A Course in Miracles — and many, many experiences as a journalist — is how to be present for a person, or a situation. I learned how to listen.
Using astrology, tarot and other esoteric tools, it’s possible to tap into deep information. It’s also very easy to get it wrong, to distort it, and to do significant harm. Before one learns how to do the right thing, you must learn how not to hurt people. And then you must learn, and figure out, and learn again, that it’s not really you who is doing the helping. it’s something coming through you.
By the time I went deep into astrology, I was fully versed in this “something coming through,” and I knew who and what it was, and I knew how to ask for help, and how to receive help.
From Joe, I learned about what I call the basic judo of the therapy room. What do you do if the client comes running at you, metaphorically speaking? What do you do if the client is the sexiest creature you’ve met in five years, and you have to keep your cool and get on with the work? What do you do if the client bursts into tears, or won’t talk? All of this I learned working with Joe.
More significantly, I had the experience of personal process actually working. I had the experience of submitting my trust to another person, and having that trust not just respected but met sincerely. I learned how to deal with my parents, and the residue of my childhood. So, in my view, not only do practicing astrologers need to cultivate strong spiritual foundations and a connection to their inner teacher. It is also essential that they have solid, positive experiencing in therapy and modeling by a therapist. Sadly, these are both difficult to come by, particularly together.
There are a few other elements that he helps to have in place, including a deep understanding of relationships and sexuality. I will get to that part of my personal journey in a little while. A great many people who arrive anywhere seeking help are working out something sexual. It may be a trauma; it may be that they are growing; it may be that they are curious and don’t know what to do about it. It could be anything. We live in dismal times when it comes to both the availability of dependable sexual knowledge, or a safe space to have the conversation. Misinformation abounds. Negativity, fear and confusion are running rampant. This stuff does not go away or resolve on its own.
Usually, you will need help — if you want to feel better, and have better experiences. I learned a lot about these things from Joe, and from a few other teachers and experiences that I’m eager to tell you about.
Binnewater Lane, Rosendale
In the winter of 1994-1995, the setting of my life was an apartment on Binnewater Lane, tucked behind the village of Rosendale, New York. I lived there in relative calm, with my two kitties, William Pen and Ling Ling. My life the prior five years had been a whirlwind of responsibility and complexity, first editing Student Leader, then busting the international conspiracy to poison the planet.
In that time I wrote somewhere between 100 and 200 articles about PCBs and dioxins. I had sued New York State (and won) for violating my right to cover the campus story. I had gone from being a grad student to reporting and making local, statewide, national and international news on a somewaht regular basis.
Suddenly it was oh so quiet. I was living off to the side of a forest, studying astrology and reading tarot cards. The loudest sounds were my cats purring and the phone ringing late at night with calls from the psychic hotline. That winter, I would look out my window in the early morning hours, and see a big planet over the hilltop. That turned out to be retrograde Mars.
Studying any of the esoteric arts, one of the first things you want to do is pick up on the rhythm of the Sun and the Moon. This counts for astrology, tarot, any form of Wicca, herbalism, or any natural art form. There is an intellectual and scholarly dimension to studying astrology (and the rest of it), though if the information is not flowing through your body, you will be speaking in abstractions.
Observing the passing of the seasons, the New and Full Moons and the solar-lunar metacycle of eclipses, are all real, tangible, grounded and physical events that have implications on the spiritual or nonphysical level. Once you can feel the lunar phases and the seasons, it’s much easier to sense the subtler planetary aspects. There is something called “aspect sensitivity,” and it’s a somatic experience. If you look at an aspect in the chart and notice that you’re having difficulty breathing, that is somatic.
Taking My Studies Underground: The Hidden Stone
The apartment I lived in was the former mule barn of the Norton Cement Works, founded in 1868. I lived on an abandoned industrial campus that had been thriving in the late 19th and early 20th century. Nearby, a place called the Women’s Studio Workshop resided in a large building that had been the Norton company store. It was now basically a handmade paper making shop, filled with letterpress printing equipment. Once, thousands of miners had lived in this town; there had been many saloons and brothels and hotels amidst the sound of dynamite blowing up the limestone reserves.
The name “Rosendale” was for decades synonymous with a kind of limestone-based cement that was mined out of the ground all around the area, with the approximate epicenter of the industry being where I lived.
Rosendale cement has the unusual property of setting underwater, and in any use, being nearly indestructible. Its manufacture requires no chemicals. The raw rock ore was dug out of the ground, the pieces were baked, and then it was crushed to powder and that was it. This substance has been used to build the wings of the Capitol Building, the piers of the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Thruway and the runways at Kennedy Airport.
Many different companies mined limestone in Rosendale. Cement kilns still dot the landscape up to Kingston and Saugerties. A row of ancient kilns was right outside my front door, complete with the wreckage of gear that got the cement ore down the mountain. Nearby were the ruins of a building used to sort out the useful baked rocks from the bad ones.
One day on the New Moon — I think it was the Pisces New Moon in early 1995 — my friend Nikki Peone came over. Our plan was to go into the woods and mediate, exactly as the Moon and Sun aligned. We strolled off into the forest, which was still unfamiliar to me. The mines were interconnected by a trail system that went all the way to the top of a big ridge. We were exploring about halfway up, and found a small mine that looked friendly.
The New Moon was about 10 minutes away. We climbed down a little hill that led to the mine entrance and sat down in the chilly spring air. We closed our eyes and breathed for a little while. I lost track of time. I’m one of those people for whom meditation does not usually get a result.
However, something happened; it was like a portal opened. The feeling was like we were sitting where we were, but suddenly we were someplace else. Space seemed to open up around me, and I could feel it opening up around Nikki. I had never experienced something quite like this, though I knew I was sitting in a dimensional opening. And I could sense, not really see but sense, the Moon passing between the Earth and the Sun.
At some point we opened our eyes.
“Did you feel that?” Mm hmm.
Well, wow. So the New Moon is…real. I got up and climbed a little embankment and found myself looking into a vast cavern, with a wide ledge of ground and a stone fire. Whoa! What that? Well, it was a cement mine, a very large one, that could serve as a ritual space and a campsite.
“Nikki! Check this out!”
She scampered up the little hill, looked around and gasped.
We had discovered the Chironian. From that day forward, I appointed myself steward of this accidental temple in the Earth. I restored the stone fire circle, cleaned the ground, and collected firewood. It had a stash of Egyptian incense, charcoals, matches, a bag of runes, and other durable basics. I brought a rake and shovel down from the house to tidy and do repairs. Without much effort, a nice woodpile manifested.
The luxurious abandoned cement mine became my second home, and my vantage point for studying nature. Night after night, I would walk through the woods and make a fire in the stone fire pit, and commune with the interior of the Earth. I would drum down there, and read runes, and bring lovers, and experience existence from this unusual point of view.
Beneath the level with the fire pit was a vast expanse of space, about the size of a large theater. This was the interior of the mine. I spent many hours down there, exploring all of the hidden crevices. I met a guy named David Wilcock, who I would take down to the mine, and we would build a fire and drum for hours, sending messages of peace into the wings of the Capitol Building that had been built out of this very rock.
I became friendly with the creatures who lived in and around the Chironian. The most important of these were bats. My preferred method of divination there was rune readings. I used a set hand-made by one of my clients, and which I hid in its leather bag in a little storage area I discovered under some rocks.
Wilcock and I had drummed for a couple of hours next to the fire. Finally we decided it was time to cast the runes. I spread out a big cloth on the ground and, just when the moment seemed right, I dumped out the bag of runes onto it. As I did so, in that instant, two bats flying at full speed appeared out of nowhere and swooped down over the runes. They seemed enormous, and added emphasis to whatever it was those rocks were saying to us that night.
Doing this kind of work all summer, I made contact with a form of direct knowledge that cannot be learned from books. I was being harmonized with the energy of the Earth and its creatures. From my study in tarot that summer, I learned the following phrase, translated from Latin:
“Visit the interior parts of the Earth; by rectification (purification) thou shalt find the hidden stone.”
While this is not literally about a stone, it turned out that during one of my expeditions, I found a hunk of limestone with a Herkimer diamond embedded in it. Checking first if I could take this thing, I lugged it back up to my little apartment, and it became the centerpiece of the area where I did my readings.
If You Like Pluto, You’ll Love Chiron
One day I saw a classified ad at the back of The Mountain Astrologer magazine. At the time this was one of my astrology research tools. Every issue was priceless, with ideas for how to read charts, current aspect tables, and so on. There was very little internet at this time; the only other thing we had were books, and books were mostly old.
The Mountain Astrologer had information about what was going on now, as well as things like current aspects, interviews, and interesting ads that tied the whole astrology community together. It’s one of those magazines where the advertising is almost as relevant as the articles. Eventually I would write a series of page-one feature articles and many other pieces.
TMA’s classified section was a portal to all sorts of goodness in my life. This one particular ad said, “If you need someone to edit your astrology book, I will help.”
I didn’t have an astrology book, but figured I might some day, so I wrote to the person and she wrote back: it turned out to be Laurie Burnett.
Laurie had edited, really, co-written, exactly one book: Pluto, Evolutionary Journey of the Soul, by her then-husband Jeff Green. It was the bestselling astrology book of the late 20th century, and both it and its author had attained cult status. I learned about the writing process and the energy that followed its publication. Jeff and Laurie were living on Vashon Island at the time, where I would eventually move for a few years.
I told Laurie I had read the book. She said, “If you like Pluto, then you’ll love Chiron.”
“Oh, what’s that?”
“I suggest your read Chiron: Rainbow Bridge Between the Inner and Outer Planets. It was written by Barbara Hand Clow. I’ve seen her speak. She’s an interesting person.”
So I called Dave at the Astrology Center and had a copy in about three days time. From this book, I learned that Chiron is a different kind of planet orbiting our Sun, discovered in 1977. The first acknowledged “centaur” planet, it’s part asteroid and part comet, in an unusual kind of orbit unknown (or rather undiscovered) until that time (bookmark the story of asteroid Hidalgo, in truth the first centaur).
Up till that time, I had been studying mostly from conventional books — good ones, but ones that covered the traditional planets, mostly written in the 1970s. Suddenly, reading about Chiron, everything I had been studying came into focus. Before I get into Chiron, I want to share this thought. If you’re studying astrology, read books from as many different eras as you can. There are good translations of even the oldest books, and you want to have a very good survey of the 20th century.)
Astrology charts are difficult to make sense out of. It takes a lot of practice, meaning daily practice for years, to master this work. Yet with knowledge about Chiron, I was looking at charts in a whole new way. One of them was to study how transits — events between planets in the chart, and planets at some later tine — seemed to create an effect in one’s life.
When I went back through my own transits (which Dave researched for me), I was amazed at the kinds of turning points I would reach every time one happened. One of the most amazing was my Chiron opposition, which had occurred the previous year. In a short time, I had forced the cleanup of one of the dorms I was covering. I won my lawsuit against the State of New York. My investigative feature appeared on the cover of Sierra. And The New York Times did a second article about me — all within weeks of a transit that would happen just once before I was 80 years old.
That was all I needed: it was as close as proof gets. I became a devoted student of Chiron. In Greek mythology, he is the centaur (half man, half horse), who was a doctor and surgeon and who in fact taught medicine to Asclepius, the god of medicine himself.
Chiron provided a focus and a purpose to astrology. Being a student of Chiron meant studying and practicing astrology as a healing art. This counted for whatever form it might take, including the horoscope column.
One night I sat down at my Mac II CX. I typed in the names of the astrological signs, and wrote two horoscopes, bi-weekly. They took about two hours to write. The narrative voice came pretty naturally, as Patric had set that example of speaking directly to the reader, like you know them already.
Then I called up a magazine called Free Time, which I knew published twice a month. It was a free entertainment newspaper, with articles and event listings. The owner, Jim, said he was interested in reading a new horoscope column, so I faxed them over. He liked them and we did a trade, horoscopes for ad space. And, that was that: a few weeks later, I was a published horoscope writer.
To Be Continued!
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