How I Learned Astrology

Posted by & filed under Learning Astrology, Professional Astrology.

by April Elliott Kent

Warning: Contains laudatory comments regarding Linda Goodman!

It started with a book.

Like a great many of my colleagues, I’m a (mostly) self taught astrologer. It all started when I was twelve years old and stumbled across (yes) Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. I dug it. It’s kind of fashionable among the astrologentsia to slam Linda, but I think we all owe her a debt of gratitude. Sun Signs was (is) accessible, one of the first to blend astrology with pop culture references. Goodman essentially dragged modern astrology kicking and screaming into the mainstream where it could be discovered by a great many potential practitioners and clients. Had my initial, preteen exposure to astrology been through the works of Alan Leo or Rob Hand (god love them, and today I own and cherish books by both of them), I’d have no doubt run screaming, utterly terrified, in the opposite direction. But I read Linda’s book and went, “Oh yeah, I recognize that, I get it.” So, I’m glad Linda Goodman was around.

I got someone to explain the hard stuff to me.

In 1989, just as I was looking down the barrel of a Saturn return, a guy I worked with introduced me to the first astrologer I’d ever met. I ended up studying with her formally for two years, and those classes helped me come to grips with some of the arcane and mystifying stuff I’d been utterly unable to grasp from books – stuff like secondary progressions. Finally, after all those years of head scratching befuddlement, I could finally work with progressions and transits, return and relocation charts, midpoints and composites. Hell, I could progress relocated composites if I wanted to! So Diane Ronngren, thank you.

I proceeded to learn even more by doing – badly.

I began doing readings for people in 1990. I would get so freaked out before each one that I’d get diarrhea. It was bad – and I’d been getting up on stages and singing in front of people for about twenty years, so you’d think I’d have had the stage fright under control.

I don’t have any tapes of those old sessions (thankfully) but in retrospect they were probably pretty lame; of course, it’s kind of a miracle that I (and my stomach) survived them at all. What made them bad was not lack of technical knowledge, and it wasn’t lack of preparation. Lord knows I spent hours and hours and hours on those first charts, and I threw every single bit of technique at my disposal into the pot, hoping something magical would brew. But I lacked experience, I didn’t really know to prepare wisely, and I lacked faith in astrology. I was still at that “Oh my god this actually works!” stage – my occasional insightful prognostication or interpretation shocked me more than my clients.

I think the problem with those first ungainly little sessions was that whatever I as doing, it wasn’t really astrology, in the sense of “speaking the language of the stars.” It was more…I don’t know… muttering the language of the stars, playing with what I’d learned to see if it worked, nervous that I’d make some mortifying blunder (I made lots). So my early sessions were just shockingly bad, and to all my early clients, I’m sorry! – and thanks for being nice to me anyway.

Dana reintroduced me to basic literary form.

It was probably two or three years into the whole astrology business before I actually began to create outlines to work from in a session, an idea gleaned from an offhand comment made by fellow astrologer and awe-inspiring writer Dana Gerhardt. From talking with Dana and getting a couple of killer readings from her, it was obvious to me that she was doing much more than just running the charts, sorting through the rubble for current aspects, and riffing away. Girlfriend was outlining things and coming up with metaphors and analogies and actually structuring a reading around a recognizable beginning-middle-end kind of format. Imagine! It was about this time that I remember thinking, “Gee, maybe people really do learn something important in college.” So Dana Gerhardt, M.A., thank you. I now outline all my readings and it’s made the difference between flying by the seat of my pants and really feeling prepared.

I went to the mountain.

In 1993 or 94 I splurged and commissioned a taped reading from Steven Forrest, whose wonderful books I had long admired. Needless to say, listening to this extraordinary astro-yoda, a veteran of about a gazillion astrological consultations, made me feel like a complete fraud as an astrologer. This guy’s reputation is well deserved: he does absolutely beautiful work. First Dana, then Steven Forrest, raised my personal benchmark to a standard that I’m still not living up to. So thanks, Steve. I think.

I realized astrology could only take me so far.

I began studying astrology when I was twelve years old, and I’m not done learning. But increasingly, it seems the things I need to learn in order to do better astrology don’t have anything to do with astrology itself. Astrology, while a perfect language for describing the world to those who speak the language, can only take one so far in interpreting its insights to the astrologically illiterate. To be effective interpreters for those who don’t speak the language, we have to be able to enter our clients’ frame of reference and translate our perceptions into parallels that are meaningful to them. The more we know about the world of real people, and about more or less universal frames of reference (e.g., film, literature, art, music, philosophy, sports, TV sitcoms), the better equipped we are to communicate universal truths to the 99% of the population who have no real understanding of astrology. Unfortunately, this means that just learning good astrology does not make one a good astrologer, any more than learning to type fast makes one a great writer.

In the end…

Everyone follows his or her particular path to astrological enlightenment, but I suspect all these routes share a few common landmarks: first wading in shyly, then stalking and mastering various techniques, proceeding to the preliminary stage of inflicting ghastly readings on unsuspecting clients, and eventually learning from experience and from great people you respect.

But only recently has the astrological culture hinted at a final initiation rite, that of finding one’s own astrological voice and making the leap from technician to artist. It’s a difficult leap to make, because artistry is by its very nature personal, and so no one else can tell you exactly how to get there. You can’t read it in a book or learn it from masters. Instead, you have to dig deep into your reservoirs of knowledge, compassion, and curiosity and see what you’ve got on hand, and then find the courage to share that with your clients in a spirit of ferocious creative collaboration.

It’s a cool job.

© 1999 April Elliott Kent. All rights reserved.