They hate each other, even though they generally share positive motivations. Venus hangs out with gourmands, poets, and prostitutes. Jupiter is happiest surrounded by Brahmins and scholars. Mercury is the puer aeternus with a sharp wit that oscillates between skepticism and wonder. Their war is being fought in a constellation of passion and shadows. Yours is an unorthodox path. He shrugged. There might be health implications to that kind of continued stress. For that day at least, he had me.
I rode my bike home, weeping with recognition. Because someone had finally seen me, I could begin to see myself, to forgive these ancient tensions within me, to regard them as exquisite strengths and vulnerabilities that no-one else possessed.
And there was something about his studied frankness. My teacher astonished me without any ceremony or grandiosity, with a method that seemed at the time as transparent as reading a book. Accordingly, he also said:. So the chart was saying that I should start studying charts. I showed up on a Wednesday afternoon, joined the tiny class of other refugees from science and modernity, and plunged into a bicameral world of chanting, memorizing the qualities and average daily motions of each planet, learning hand calculations of divisional charts.
And mantra. Tens of thousands of mantras.
The sun: 40K repititions. Mars: 27K. It was a like a grad-level course in ancient literature and Jungian theory. Every morning for a year I spent an hour in mantra recitation, meditating on a planet or luminary, or an asterism, rolling their stories around in my heart, moistened by sound.
Astrology is bullshit
I loved it. Then came an hour of casting the daily charts by hand — one for each of the twelve rising signs — and memorizing where the sun would be at the junctures of the day that heralded the energies of kapha, pitta, and vata.
Watching the sky move through your little silk window takes enormous patience and concentration. Astrology emerges from the gap between our waking awe at the world and how that awe unlocks internal wonders at the edge of sleep. What skeptics should also understand about this kind of study is that its fundamental premise is quickly buried under an avalanche of baroque detail in which intricate mathematics were correlated with psychic quantities. For most of my obsession I simply forgot that if I carried through with my studies I would have people coming to my home asking me what they should do with their lives.
I think this is why most young and sincere astrologers will express real astonishment at the charge of pseudoscience. I was practicing my new religion. You spend so much time in your reverie upon the monologues that the plays enact themselves in your dreams, and your private semi-conscious speech begins to lope along in iambic pentameter. You have become a channel for Shakespeare. Then, imagine that someone comes to you and asks how you think Shakespeare would say that they should live their lives. You stammer a bit, try to discern which narrative best fits their age and station in life, and then reach into the vault of monologues for something that corresponds.
Over two years I had learned from my teacher to do as he had done with me in that first meeting: focus on key, obvious themes to begin.
The 13th Astrology Sign, Ophiuchus, Is Bullshit | isispriest
Literally anything can be drawn out of a chart. If the resonance is clear, ride it out with questions. The paradox is that the opening gambits of cold reading which I had unconsciously learned to do, albeit with the utmost sincerity are not only vague, but that their vagueness appeals to very recognizable existential themes. The problem is that the astrologer will have little to zero training in how to facilitate that conversation in a psychodynamic and intersubjective way, once begun. The isolation you feel is a dream. God is everywhere. People came, and I discussed their charts with them, and many seemed pleased, and they told their friends, and I became increasingly uneasy with the whole thing.
The real problems started with the follow-ups. After feeling a connection with me through a generalized conversation derived from a cold reading, the client might ask to return to explore a baffling fork in the road of their future, or a particular question about the timing of events. I would sometimes hazard a best-possible guess — and be transparent that I was doing exactly that — through what seemed to stand out to me in the chart. Second- and third-time clients left my office a little deflated, and I was strangely relieved. I was only really happy whenever the initial guess led to the frank discussion we could have had under any circumstance, and quite unhappy when the client wanted me to return to the planets and dates.
I wanted to stick with the fruitful conversation about anxiety or poor boundaries, or the meaning of intense ambition, but too often my clients wanted me to continue to play upon and expand the power differential between us. What I really wanted to do was psychotherapy, while many of my clients wanted magic. I tried to mitigate the strange situation by becoming even more transparent. I not only never claimed causal knowledge, but I declared it impossible. I continually undermined my authority.
As my teacher had done with me in that first reading, I showed every client their chart, and turned every reading into a lesson about the art form and its limitations. Nonetheless, many clients still gave me power, instead of taking it for themselves. I was doing everything I could to limit the feeling that I was bullshitting, but the very premise of the form itself — that I held access to some kind of external insight — was intractable. The process cannot help but to distort reality through the prism of an unequal power dynamic.
In fact, sensitivity to all of these problems as a reader is probably even more harmful than brute ignorance, insofar as the structural pretense of knowledge will be covered over with what can only be a pretense of humility, if the reader continues to engage the authority of the chart. So: the smarter I got about astrology, the more intolerable it became, even as my practice of it became more and more empathetic. One for each chakra. Or something like that. Firstly, within a single month, three female clients came to me in early stages of pregnancy to ask me whether they should carry their fetuses or terminate.
This astonished and terrified me.
Taurus (April 20-May 20)
I instinctively refused to help them by looking at their charts. Secondly, I found the blog You Are Not So Smart , in which journalist David McRaney investigates dozens of cognitive biases and logical fallacies that pepper our daily lives. I inhaled all sixty-odd articles on his site within about a week. I was astonished at how not-smart I am. He has a book out now that I think should be required reading on every YTT list in the world. He pays particular attention to those pervasive flaws in thinking by which we aggrandize our self-perception — a not-uncommon pastime in yoga culture.
Thirdly, I realized that the contemplative richness I felt in studying a natal chart was not a new feeling for me. It invoked a quiet, baffled darkness inside my head. I felt a kind of torpor, the melancholy of time passing, glimpsing a pattern emerging from ether, the attempt to grasp at it, having it run like water from my hand, turning again to the blank page, feeling so alone, so secretive. It was the exact same feeling I had when writing poetry. Astrology provided the pleasure of a creative act. That pleasure evaporated as the creativity was marshaled into power over others.
He continued batting about. But in numerous follow-up readings he gave to myself and others in the class, he failed to have insight into accidents, sicknesses, deaths in families, and changes in relationship or career. You know, the big stuff. Then he frowned over some transits for a while, looked somberly at me, and suggested that I chant the mantra of Saturn.
Fifth, I found a psychotherapist. All my therapist did was to hold up a mirror. Sixth: my teacher and I had a falling-out over a skeptical piece I published — not about astrology, but about the performative semiotics of sainthood in modern yoga. I had teased out the implications of the obviously staged photographs of Sri Yukteshwar and Yogananda. I reported on the well-known fact that Sri Chimnoy hired his photographer to air-brush pictures of his feats of strength so that it would appear that he actually was lifting a Volkswagon clear off the ground. My teacher was outraged at my impiety. Our relationship ended in exhilarating fashion, with us screaming at each other in the street.
And then he expelled me from the class. Seventh: unforeseen by astrology, my life utterly changed. My marriage collapsed. I met a new partner, somebody with whom I took a few more steps towards becoming an adult.
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A dear friend was killed in cycling accident. A community organization I had helped to build folded. My yoga studio went up for sale. My house went on the market. People asked me to do readings for them. For me, the system, its charts, its mathematics, its incredibly rich mythology and psychic richness, its hours of contemplation, its songs running through my head, its love for these nine troublesome archetypes, these twenty-seven strange and volatile deities in the constellations and in my heart: this all constituted my last guru.
I bowed before this practice. I learned it from a peer, and so no one lorded it over me. But in its sly way, it would ask me to hold power over others. Above all, I am student of literature, with which we do not predict the future, but try rather to feel more deeply into the present. I do not want to die suddenly, and have my son find them and read them without my being there to tell this strange story. Occasionally I still consider my own natal chart, alongside other artifacts of my self-identity.
I was a Catholic. I was a Buddhist. I think ironically but fondly of those three planets, frozen into combat at the moment of my birth, still at war on the page, and, I suppose, within my heart. I think of my teacher, how I loved him, how I miss him, how I mourn for everyone lost in the cracks between paradigms. I think of the people I sat with, hoping that they hold the charts that provoked our conversations as lightly as I do now.
All tools are best held lightly. I think of my partner, and how I fell in love with her as her chart sat between us in an Ayurveda meeting, and how the chart disappeared when we began to speak, and how I learned about her and I both by leaving all charts behind. About my son. Today I watch my chubby mathematical impossibility scampering around the kitchen, wrestling with the cat, and working his way into language. He knows da-da , and ma-ma , and uh-oh , and ball. And when he opens Goodnight Moon he points at the bright crescent in the dark sky and says moo , moo , moooo…n. Selected for Best of Yoga Philosophy.
Thanks James. I would never root my disenchantment in the power structures of the prerational per se, but in how they are manipulated, consciously or not, in a post-whatever world. I definitely think we have evolved beyond jyotisha as a tool for empiricism. When those two purposes are unconsciously or consciously intermingled, there are problems. I have no criticism of ritual here. We just need to be really thoughtful about what we would like to prime. Astrology has held a relationship with traditional medicine and yoga, in some instances it was successful stripped from the pragmatic discourse, and perhaps woefully disregarded in areas where its relevance seemed to apply the most.
Ritual as primer… gets to the heart of the question. There were developments in the history of yoga that integrated mythic structures prerational and emerged after modern developments, which reintegrated ritual, reinterpreted mythology and challenged similar dualistic and prerational assumptions, while to me stepping beyond the chad sm of what some consider a postmodern disenchantment and barren distrust. These integral developments or insights find no real opposition with empiricism, but are just not dominated by it.
We all make mistakes, but Wilber really goes for gold. Disenchantment is such a delicate thing. It feels harsh, and then buoyant. But when it sinks, and we get over the adolescent spasm, I think we can realize that it is its own experiential thrust. Naked by a cold pond. The poetry will remain intact, and it will fly, I think. We just have to stop bullshitting about how it means what it means.
Something I really appreciate in this articulation is precisely the personal narrative and how it highlights certain issues, and the ruptures and breaks from tradition that have to do with critical reflection. We learn from personal answers and resolutions, even if they are not the same as our own. I myself spent a decade acquainting, and for periods, adopting a literal stance to them.
I attended a lecture by a prominent scholar who lashed out on non-literal interpretations of the puranas, whose own commentarial traditional allows for it, when accessing symbolic content.
The same insistence was there for YS metaphysical propositions. Nowadays, many teachers are drawing from the mythic bedrock to teach on asana, perhaps not recognizing the lot of unconscious assumptions being adopted in the meaning-making processes underlying their appropriation. The response to Doniger as of late: some traditionalists, or others with a certain agenda feel abhorred, others find her work fascinating, but all these discussions seem to highlight a false tension — that of East and West; the bulk of populations taking up yoga all live from modern constructs of experience.
Yet, how we make sense of the cultural embededness of yoga and its subsidiary traditions is perhaps paramount. Efficacy is something to ponder. And at the same time, without it being contested it is more likely that people will fall back upon unconscious and romantic appropriations.
She passed on the phone call, but sent me a 2, word response to my questions. She started writing horoscopes in after answering an ad on a college bulletin board. Eventually it was just Mathis writing all the horoscopes, and when Jillson died in , she took over the column. No best seller or movie version of the work. No Wikipedia page. I am like those monks who create sand mandalas to be briefly enjoyed by the passersby and tossed to the river at the end of the day.
I asked if there was a formula, and she says no. I want to create a tiny poem for each sign. I show up. That helps. What I most wanted to ask her was whether she really believes in astrology. I am just like everyone else, bringing all I know into looking for the pattern. One that will make people feel seen and understood.
Make them feel like they belong in this cluster of humanity under one sky.