Prediction: When the Future is Beside the Point

Posted by & filed under Astrology Techniques, Professional Astrology.

by April Elliott Kent

Originally appeared in The Wholistic Astrologer, May 2000.

prediction and astrologyOccasionally life finds us playing out some familiar piece of personal theater — a self-destructive response to particular situations, for instance, or a predilection for inappropriate relationships — when suddenly we experience a breakthrough of objectivity. We are able to observe ourselves as if from a great distance, as if watching a character in a movie — a genre movie, one that goes according to a well-established formula, like a teen slasher movie…

Our intrepid teenage heroine returns home from a hot date to find her front door wide open. Instead of running for dear life (obviously the sensible response), she wanders slowly into the house, her eyes glazed over, almost as if she can’t help herself… This is the point at which those in the audience—who’ve seen dozens of these slasher flicks and can predict exactly what’s going to happen next—rise up as one and shout at that luminous projection on the movie screen, “Don’t do it! Don’t go in that house!”

After all, our protagonist would presumably have seen a few of these films herself, and should know better! But of course, just because we the audience see what’s coming next doesn’t mean we can do much about it. Even when it’s ourselves we’re observing in the all-too-familiar film of our lives, often we can only sit and watch in disgust as we wander, eyes glazed, into that house — and get ripped to shreds by a mutant serial killer.

Prediction in astrology seems to have roughly the same drawback (without the mutant serial killer): Even if we could use astrology to predict exactly what’s going to happen next (and I don’t believe we can), I’m not sure our predictions would be helpful or even particularly relevant to our clients, who have usually decided exactly what they’re going to do well before they come to see us. Yet as astrologers, we have a powerful incentive to predict because when it works, we fulfill society’s expectations and both we and astrology look good.

I came to astrology solidly on the side of free will and spent the first few years in practice neatly sidestepping the entire prediction issue by giving people full psychological profiles of themselves, which may or may not have been helpful, but for which I was certainly in no way qualified. There were plenty of astrologers in my immediate circle, however, who were prediction fundamentalists: transiting Saturn squaring your Moon was going to pin your mother under a large rock, period. While I was stumbling along in agonizing baby steps, struggling against the prevailing paradigm and irritating my few clients with my refusal to predict, my fatalistic colleagues were having little trouble attracting — and satisfying — clients.

This apparent victory of fatalism over empowerment flew in the face of everything I believed to be right about life in general and astrology in particular, but I wanted to build my practice; so for awhile I tried to play along. I grew despondent as it became apparent that prediction actually could work on this fatalistic level, and that furthermore this is what most clients claimed they wanted. But it really bothered me whenever I got lucky and “predicted” something for a client that “came true”, and they came back to me wide-eyed and impressed, wanting more. It bothered me because I couldn’t get this question out of my mind: What is the point? Why is this helpful, “knowing” what’s going to happen? Presuming we can know?

Today this kind of rhetoric runs fast and furious throughout the astrological community as we grow increasingly disenchanted with the old predictive model and embrace astrology’s unique ability to inspire and empower. But as our approach to astrology becomes (we hope) more sophisticated, we have to battle the impulse to feel frustrated with, and a bit condescending toward clients and their very human desire to know “what’s going to happen next.” Because let’s be honest: Despite our attempts to distance ourselves from this approach to prediction, to honor free will and present a more balanced and metaphorical astrology, speaking in terms of archetypes and psychology rather than events — when we’re working with our own chart in a predictive way, don’t we look at that Pluto transit bearing down on our natal Venus and instinctively jump to the very best or very worst conclusion, hoping for the best, fearing the worst, with very little of the proportion we try to offer our clients? Despite our best efforts to rise above superstition and fatalism, astrologers are after all mere mortals; and the need for predictability appears to be a generic human instinct.

There are practical reasons for wanting to predict the future. Ask any farmer whose livelihood depends on predicting cycles of weather. But your average urban client is not seeking advice on optimal planting times, and I suspect the majority of astrology clients in the industrialized world would tell you they seek predictions out of a need to feel “in control.” In fact, I think many of us would rather have advance knowledge of a miserable future than entertain optimistic uncertainties; at least we’d know what was coming down, instead of sitting back grinning and hoping, then looking like an idiot when life pulls the rug out from under us. Just as often, though, the desire for prediction seems to have the opposite motivation: A need for assurance that the future is preordained and we therefore have little control or responsibility for creating the future we want.

Astrology’s dirty little secret is that even with a strong grasp of traditional predictive methods we cannot predict events with absolute reliability, because we are only human and because our clients have a great deal of influence on how their lives play out. For skeptics, that’s precisely the point at which the entire argument for astrology falls apart. But what if we could predict the future precisely and reliably? Even on those occasions when I play the prediction game, it’s my experience that very few clients alter their behavior based on what I predict. We’ve all had the experience of being asked for advice by a client, or even just a good friend, and after we’ve given advice—really great advice, we think, usually a variation on “Don’t go into that house!”— they listen carefully and nod and say, “Yes, you’re right, you’re absolutely right.” And then they leave and make a beeline for whatever destructive person or situation we discouraged them from pursuing! Whether or not my prediction will eventually be proven correct is, at that point, completely irrelevant; the deed is done, and the best my client can do is benefit from 20/20 hindsight.

So if we can’t necessarily predict events too well with astrology, and if to the extent we can people don’t heed our warnings anyway, what are we left with? Hopefully, a system that encourages personal development and change. Whether it’s ourselves or our clients whom we observe playing out the same mistakes over and over, our new paradigm for predictive astrology is a tool to help spot destructive trends and redirect energies into more creative channels. But change and empowerment are a hard sell, compared with the passive gratification of predictions.

It seems most of us must come to a point of flat-out emotional trauma before we’re willing to consider change. It’s when we’re at this point of crisis—when we have been liberated by pain from our usual defenses– that counsel of any type seems to have the best chance of actually making a difference, but it’s also when we seek “prediction” most desperately. It’s at these moments of crisis that astrologers feel most pressured to give clients what they want: prediction, and the certainty it represents. But prediction at this stage of the game is dangerous, because it encourages a mindset which seeks a static future — and that is not a mindset conducive to transformation in the present.

If we choose to work in the so-called “predictive” realm—if we choose to draw correlations between planetary cycles and cycles of human transformation — we need to find a way of interpreting the astrological language in a way that places past and future events in the context of a larger landscape. Understanding can go a long way toward substituting for certainty; if we have understanding and perspective, we have an inner compass that guides us through whatever external dramas come our way. Used as a tool for building this kind of understanding, astrology can reveal possibilities in an exciting and meaningful way and offer a satisfying alternative to the no-win choice between fatalistic, head-in-the-sand fortune telling and the kind of squooshy, feel-good soft-pedaling that leaves clients feeling angry that “You didn’t warn me that would happen!”.

One of my favorite tools is the use of eclipse cycles to help clients recognize the recurring patterns in their lives, interpret what these patterns mean, and work productively with moments of breakthrough crisis. The emphasis is much less on using cycles to predict the future than on using them to understand the present within the context of the past. By tracking eclipse patterns through the chart, I’m often able to demonstrate how these patterns link together unexpected periods of our lives and offer us healing through a series of developmental crises. But more to the point, I try to present this information in a way that supposes astrological cycles have something worthwhile to offer us, that they needn’t serve merely as a cheap cinematic trick to flatter astrologers into feeling omniscient or to let our clients off the hook as co-creators of their futures, but rather as tools to excite curiosity and promote imaginative responses.

Used thoughtfully, eclipse cycles or any other predictive technique can offer a way to anticipate, revision, and ultimately heal the life lessons suggested by natal aspects. Having a tool for anticipating the next chapter in the unfolding drama of our lives can help us understand not so much what events will take place, but what part of us will be summoned up by those events and given the opportunity for further development.

So here it is: I don’t subscribe to a causal astrology, which suggests that the planets cause us to behave in certain ways, or cause things to happen to us. What interests me is using the birthchart as a kind of roadmap to divine the roads available, determine paths of least resistance, and play with alternative ways of imagining one’s life, maximizing personal growth, and having the most fun allowed by law. But any roadmap is limited to showing us the roads available; it can’t tell which road we’ll choose to take, or how we’ll react to what we meet along the way. In short, maps—including birthcharts—can tell us how to get where we’re going, but not where we’ll end up!

I can’t speak for all astrologers, or even for the few whom I consider kindred spirits. But my personal astrological mission statement is expressed to my clients as follows:

When we work together, I’ll aim to present my perspectives in an enabling, imaginative way; to speak clearly, in meaningful language; to use your birth chart to reveal something of your choices and challenges. I won’t tell you which road to take, or presume to know where you’ll end up. Instead, we’ll use the symbolism of the chart to gain perspective, when you’re uncertain about which road to choose; to find hope, when life has disappointed you; and when you’re lost, to help you find your way home.

© 2000 April Elliott Kent. All rights reserved

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.