The Impersonal Planets

Every couple of months I get sent the Mountain Astrologer and the great majority of the time it gathers dust in a little box I have for the purpose of retiring copies of the magazine. It is not that it is not a great magazine, I would not get it otherwise but I am lazy, I get sent a lot of professional therapy literature (much of which gets even less attention) and in trying to develop my own approach from my client work and my previous astrology studies I figure I am not always looking for more input, no matter about quality. Recently, Richard Tarnas and Caroline Myss interviews and the essays of a conference buddy and another lady working to fuse astrology and therapy who had sent me a prior version of her essay led me into reading more of it. Often when the weather was good with a cup of tea on the decking at the back of the house, on one such peruse I came across the following passage:

“The outer planets, however, are forces outside our personal experience as individuals. We can neither embody nor master these energies. When we encounter these energies, all we can do is surrender to them, keep our heads down, and ride out the storm.”

This is from an essay by an astrologer I had never previously come across, a perfectly well written piece which as I ruminate upon in the pages of this website I in no way wish to single out for any kind of special treatment, negative or positive. Rather this quotation, ostensibly as part of an argument for classical rulership (ignoring any of the discoveries of the planets outside of Saturn when assigning rulers for the Signs) got me thinking about the planets beyond the personal and what kind of relationship we can ever have to such energies as represented by Pluto, Uranus and Neptune – planets that even as words have the capacity to evoke the far flung and cold outer reaches of the solar system.

In one way this gentleman was making an excellent point: that there are events in life, ‘fated’ or even traumatic ones, just as there are vast subconscious and super-conscious forces that are completely beyond our control. On one level the fantasy that we could ‘embody or master’ such energies is a potentially dangerous heroic delusion. In this sense the above short paragraph could be read as a Rumi like aphorism pointing at the delusions of the ego, wanting always to get hold of every cosmic force, like Kubrick’s apes turning into men, to appropriate it as a tool for our betterment. The astrologer as Rumi like Sage knows we better drop such delusions for the ocean of truth will soon wash them away like so many letters on the sand.

Having said that I am not certain that was how the passage was intended. Whilst a certain rueful wisdom is being alluded to here, to let go of such things as are beyond our ken, there may also be a certain fear present to those very things beyond our personal horizon, a certain implicit tone of ‘you do not want to go down there…’. This undertone is even more important when we remember the overall context of the piece as an argument for why classical astrology has got things right. This is a conservative tone, if it was not broke, do not fix it. That the discovery of Uranus coincided in such a timely fashion with the onset of European revolution, that Pluto joined the stage alongside the advent of the splitting of the atom and the nuclear revolution, these are fancy new-fangled associations that we do not need to bother ourselves with at all… Now I am being unfair.

Before I begin to be even more unfair let us acknowledge a few points. One, the value of classical astrology which I honour if only as the foundation of why I am writing these words, and why you dear reader are reading them, with whatever degree of interest you can muster. It is the basis of Rulerships, Dispositors and many of the structural fundamentals of the Art/Science/Craft that we practice. The classical astrologers emphasize Exaltations and Falls. Simply because I do not always see the value of exalted placements does not mean it has no value at all, we just have to be very careful with the usage of such terms and their exaggerations. Whilst I would argue, just as I am sure the classical astrologers would argue, that a whole chart needs to be taken into consideration… that said, when we break that rule and highlight certain individual exaltations we can see that do not always have an obvious benefic expression; such as a close school friend of mine’s Venus in Pisces. Such an exalted planetary influence was certainly undermined by the onset of Schizophrenia in his early twenties and that rather altered his relationship to himself and others. Now this is not meant as a rebuttal of the value of Exaltations in general but is meant to be briefly suggestive of their limitations as compared to the overall evolutionary and karmic issues acting from with (and seemingly upon) an individual in this life.

I have no real argument with classical astrologers either, more a desire to explore the assumptions of our culture (past and present) with regard to the nature of the personal, and therefore the ‘personal’ planets. Before I continue that let us honour the personal planets and the nature of the personal self in its most direct and obvious way. I remember as a student reading Howard Sasportas and Liz Greene’s seminars on the personal planets and their relationship to the psyche which seemed quite useful. Greene follows a Jungian approach that writers such as Jean Shinoda Bolen have explored, linking gods and goddesses to the potentials of everyday life. Sasportas was a Psychosynthesis therapist like me and he understood that the genius of Roberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis, on the personal level, was in his understanding of the various people inside us that he named sub-personalities. This is an insight that has particularly been expanded by the hypnotherapeutic community as ‘parts therapy’ and is acknowledged as critical in the integration of subconscious needs that are denied or unresolved by the ego consciousness. To understand that the powerful board room supervisor sub-personality may just as easily convert to the guilty child sub-personality when mother comes to visit is just the beginning of a rich dialogue with the multiplicity of the personal self (“I am large, I contain multitudes”, Whitman).

I remember an experience I had as a young astrologer around my Saturn return, at a stage when I had done a lot of psychological astrology study and yet I was just begin to include the possibility of the evolutionary astrological approach. I remember I was quite shy about the more evolutionary teachings as I had only just studied with Jeffrey Green in London and I was less practised in the approach. The reading on one level was going well, it was an older lady client and she was nodding to everything I said. With her agreement and openness in just twenty minutes I had presented her with a psychological profile from her natal chart and she agreed with pretty much every word. Then we paused and she shrugged and there was a ‘so what’ moment. I remember the uncomfortable feeling of going to the edge of the known or prepared for, as we realised together that some considerable skill and training had gone into me telling her what she already knew. This lady was old enough, experienced and open enough that she had already gotten to know the personal self that I had helped articulate through the birth chart. Maybe if she had been twenty-five it would have seemed more impressive.

I remember also my decision in the frisson of that moment, teetering on the edge of a precipice between the known and the unknown, my decision to go into the evolutionary approach, the why behind the how of the personal self and my increasing sense of empowerment as her interest increased ten-fold and we suddenly knew why we had met, why we were in this space we call an ‘astrology reading’ together, and that in doing so, we were both taking a risk, a meaningful step toward the real. This moment in my life, a quietly defining one for the kind of astrologer I was going to turn out to be, would not have happened in the same way if I had responded to the transpersonal planetary energies and their symbolism as explored so fundamentally in evolutionary Astrology by buttoning down the hatches and riding out the storm. I mean on one level there would have been no great scene if I had not taken the leap, a perfectly polite and even occasionally validating exchange would have taken place between two people who would have left feeling alright about themselves. The world would not have stopped turning one way or the other. Yet I know in my heart that an opportunity that opened in life, at that particular moment with those two people, who had never previously met and would never meet each other again, an opportunity for an encounter with the meaning of a human life, was at least partially taken before it disappeared into the stream of the day to day, just another ripple and all.

The irony is that much of what we term meaning in life, on a personal level, emanates from a level above, below, around and beyond the purely personal self. We are torn apart by things, awed by music, by a sunset or the beauty of a loved one, we are destroyed by forces beyond our personal control and this is arguably the greatest thing about us. In our vulnerability to vast cosmic and existential forces, not least death, freedom and love we transcend the fragmentary bias of the personal self and enter the full potential of what it means to be (or to become) fully human in this turning world. Evolutionary Astrology, as the quotation below will illustrate begins to include a perspective whereby the personal planets exist within a context with the transpersonal planets, with Saturn as a boundary between the two. It includes both worlds, and as such has an expansive nature that much astrology seems to ignore or even malign. This seems to have a relationship to the fashion with which our culture at times treats what we might call the Soul, or more gently, soulfulness or a soulful perspective. It is this allegiance to Soul that I wish to make and that I believe evolutionary astrology makes so radically that it can reframe our entire perspective on astrology:

“Saturn defines the boundaries of our subjective consciousness – that of which we are consciously aware. Uranus represents the individualized unconscious, Neptune the collective unconscious and Pluto the Soul itself. Each personality that the Soul manifests, from lifetime to lifetime, has an ego (Moon) that serves as a focussing agent to create one’s own self-image… Each personality has an intrinsic nature, an orientation that experiences life in its own unique way. Each personality that the Soul manifests relates directly to the evolutionary necessities of the Soul.”

From paragraph 1 of Pluto: the Evolutionary Journey of the Soul by Jeffrey Green.

In this way I hope to introduce the idea that the ‘Impersonal planets’, the planets beyond Saturn, beyond our only conscious understanding can lead us to a perspective that is ironically more personally rewarding and meaningful that the purely ‘personal’ planets – that we are spiritual being manifesting in an energetic and manifest creation. That reality is no simple personal narrative but a vast interlocking cosmic story in which we have our own unique part to play. Go on, go for it. Good luck and God bless.