The Lens of Astrology / Part 2
Interview with Liz Greene, by Nicholas Campion
The original article appeared in the American astrological magazine "The Mountain Astrologer" (Feb/Mar 2002). The edition is still available on their website www.mountainastrologer.com
Nick Campion: One of the prevalent themes throughout all your work is the dynamic idea of astrology as a process or astrology as a path, and that we are all on a journey to somewhere. As I read what you wrote about Saturn-Pluto on my way here, I realised that you were also emphasising the concept of process and the passage through growth and decay that comes with linear time, which is evident through nature, society, and the human psyche. You also state that "these are esoteric concepts." On another occasion, when a member of the audience at a seminar tried to involve you in discussion of reincarnation in relation to Saturn and Pluto, you responded: "I really don't know about the metaphysical side of all this." So, what I'm asking is whether you, personally, have a metaphysics which influences your astrology or a grand metaphysical explanation of astrology? Or does it just not concern you?
Liz Greene: It concerns me on a personal level in the sense that I would like to know what in hell we are doing here. So, I will certainly raise the question. But I don't think that astrology itself contains metaphysics. There is no belief system attached to it. People bring belief systems to it; in a sense, you can't avoid doing that, because every human being has a set of preconceptions. So, it is impossible to say: "Well, I am not bringing my belief system to astrology." Everything I have just said reflects my belief system. I can't guarantee that the patterns that I perceive in life are really there. But I am pretty sure that something like them is there, because enough other people have been perceiving them for millennia. But as far as reincarnation, evolution, and questions about where the spirit goes after death are concerned - Do we have souls? Do we go to heaven or hell? Should we be Christian or should we be pagan? - I really have no idea. I don't think the answers to these questions are relevant to astrology itself. Astrology is simply a set of symbols describing patterns. If we impose a spiritual or religious or metaphysical order on those patterns, that's fine. But it is a personal imposition and not something inherent in astrology itself.
Nick Campion: Would you say that astrology itself is a belief system?
Liz Greene: No, I wouldn't, any more than any symbol is a belief system. I don't know what symbols are, except that they seem to emerge organically as containers of a multitude of conflicting and complicated patterns that are connected in some way. We don't manufacture them, and we certainly don't believe in them. They are there anyway. We perceive them, notice them, and make connections between them. "Believing" in astrology makes no sense to me. It is nonsense to say, "I believe in it," because belief is something you do when you have no direct experience. Astrology is something that requires experience and hands-on work to see whether it conveys any meaning or relevance. So, it is like saying, "Do you believe in your car?" No, I just drive it. I have no idea how it runs, but if it works, well, fine. People who say they believe in astrology are either using the wrong word or don't know what they are talking about. You can believe in God or you can believe in reincarnation, because we have no direct experience of these things. There are people who would say they know there is a God and that it's not a matter of belief. Okay, I can't argue with that. Maybe they do. Some people say they know there is reincarnation, because they remember the 16th century when they were burnt at the stake. Well, I am not in a position to say they are idiots or are delusional - or that they are fantasising something profoundly relevant, symbolically. I just don't know, and because I don't know, I don't feel it is appropriate to bring this into an interpretation with a client.
Nick Campion: So, turning to clients, then, have you formed any general impression as to what they want from astrology? The criticism is sometimes levelled at people who go to astrologers that they are looking for meaning - as if that is a negative thing - or that they are in search of security.
Liz Greene: There are as many different reasons why people go to an astrologer as there are people. I also think that skepticism and belief are two faces of the same pathology. The skepticism that makes people say, "People who go to astrologers are just insecure," is the result of a misleading generalisation. You have to take it one individual at a time. How many years ago did I start seeing clients? If I started when I was nineteen, that's 36 years. I couldn't say that all the people I have seen over that period are looking for the same thing - or for one specific thing. They fall into rough groups. Some people come for purely pragmatic concerns. They simply assume that astrology might be useful and that they can use a horoscope reading to find out how and when to make a practical decision. They are not really anxious about why it works. Others come for psychological insights. Some come because they have run up against a wall with a relationship dilemma. Some come because they are quite wretched and deeply depressed, or they are on the edge of a breakdown and they are hoping that they can get some insight. Some people come for meaning. Some come because they want to know about their spiritual development. You name it! So, I don't think they fall into any particular category. And some of them, perhaps most of them, don't "believe" in it. They are interested solely in seeing whether it can help them, which is not the same thing.
Nick Campion: Do your clients share a recognisable socio-economic background? I'm thinking of accusations I've heard that people who go to see astrologers are on the fringes of society.
Liz Greene: No, there's no pattern. When I started doing charts, my circle was limited because of the scene I was around in the 1960s. There was certainly a "type" of client then. My clients came mainly from the New Age hippie world, with an overlap of people in the music business and the theatre. People in all sections of society have always been interested in astrology, and there is no single type of person I have seen over the last 20 years. Any kind of client and any reason for a consultation that you can think of, they have come for a chart.
Nick Campion: Do you not even see a majority of women? Wherever I go, that's the dominant gender in astrology.
Liz Greene: That used to be the case, but increasingly now I have a lot of male clients. Interestingly, since I have moved to Switzerland, the percentage of men has gone up. I've also noticed it at my ZüŒrich seminars, where there are many more men than there are in my London seminars.
Nick Campion: That's quite surprising, because I am used to the overwhelming preponderance of women in astrology in the U.K. and the U.S.
Liz Greene: I think it's cultural, that one. I wouldn't say that there are more men than women amongst the Swiss students, but certainly, in some seminars, there are as many as forty or fifty percent. It depends on the topic. If I am doing a seminar on the Moon or Venus, more women will come. But there are differences in terms of how the collective perceives astrology in Switzerland. I get people from the Swiss government coming to seminars, as well as biologists and mathematicians - men who have no problem with being seen going to an astrology seminar.
Nick Campion: Is that particular to you, in the sense that you are known as a Jungian, and Jung was a man and Swiss?
Liz Greene: No, I don't think so. I think it is cultural. There is something very deeply wrong with the British collective in terms of its approach to astrology. The British suffer from hyper-rationality, and people are very afraid of the irrational. That is why the British are into Freud-bashing, Jung-bashing, psychoanalysis-bashing, astrology-bashing. It is a problem in this collective. It is changing slowly, but I think it is changing faster in other European countries.
Nick Campion: Presumably, you are using the word "irrational" in a positive sense.
Liz Greene: Yes, "irrational" doesn't mean "mad."
Nick Campion: It so often does mean mad.
Liz Greene: Well, it often does in Britain!
Nick Campion: Just now, you said that belief and skepticism were two sides of the same coin. This reminded me of a conversation I had with Alexander Ruperti at a British Astrological Association Conference around 1985. He was a student of Alice Bailey's and was deeply philosophical and very influenced by theosophy. He started getting very critical of Jungian and psychological astrologers, saying, "Oh, they don't know what they are playing with because they psychologize everything." I had an insight then that the theosophical astrologers who began the development of modern psychological astrology in the early 20th century had a spiritual metaphysics that was integral to their astrology, one that Ruperti accepted. But the psychological approach to astrology can, in fact, be deeply skeptical because it would argue that, if you believe in archangels and ascended masters (as a theosophical astrologer would), then such beliefs might be no more than your psychological projection.
Liz Greene: Yes, they might be. But looking at things psychologically doesn't mean that numinous experiences are therefore necessarily a sublimation of a pathology. Metaphysical beliefs can exist totally appropriately on their own plane. Putting a psychological perspective on astrology simply postulates that, whatever these numinous experiences are, it is human beings who report them. Whatever it is that is being reported, psychology is not in a position to assess its truth or untruth. It is just that human beings bring their own psychological processes to bear on what they are perceiving. So, if a devout Catholic has a numinous experience, they are going to say: "I saw the Virgin Mary," while an Australian aborigine is going to say: "I became one with the land," and a Hindu will experience enlightenment through Krishna. Individuals create their own lenses through which these experiences are perceived. All that psychology can say is: "Okay, something extraordinary has happened, but we don't know whether they are angels or not." Personally, I am not in a position to say whether angels exist or not. I haven't the foggiest idea. But I am interested in the person who comes to me saying he or she saw angels, because that immediately brings in the individual and their psychology - and it is a good idea to know what kind of person you are before you assume that everything that angel said to you is the truth. That way, at least you have some room to breathe with it and to navigate round it.
Nick Campion: In Neptune, you wrote that "psychology itself, of course, may be simply another, more subtle kind of religious cosmology, as the anti-therapy lobby claims. The gap between the scientific edifice of psychoanalysis and the channelled esoteric teachings of Alice Bailey is not so great as one might think." Aside from sounding quite skeptical, I like the idea that psychology is a religious cosmology.
Liz Greene: I think schools of psychology are like that, in that their teachings tend to become dogmatic world views. Each school of psychology - with its language, hierarchies, maps of the mind, formulations of what lies at our centre and where we are going - does crystallise in exactly the same way that any religious or spiritual group crystallises. The terminology is what traps us. If you train as a Freudian, the Oedipus complex can become accepted as a reality, if you haven't got your eyes open and are not alert. The concept becomes a form through which you then identify other people's behaviour. But it isn't "real" any more than the planets are, in astrology. If you are a Jungian (and I have heard Jungians do this), you may talk about Jungian models as if they really exist. They used to do this all the time when I was doing my training. Someone would say, "Oh, I had an anima experience," because they fell in love and had a little affair on the side. The event is defined as though the anima is a real thing, a fixed point on an objective compass. But it isn't. So, it is psychology's jargon which turns it into a religious system, just as religious terminology makes religion into a system. People mistakenly use language as though it were a concrete structure that is the reality itself, whereas it is only language, and the thing it is describing is the same, whatever language you use. You don't make it more or less real by using different words.
Nick Campion: Do you think Jung himself thought that the anima was something real and concrete?
Liz Greene: I don't know. I suspect that he didn't. He was very tricky. But I think that he presents it as a system for the same reason that most psychologists present their systems. Don't get me wrong: It is not that I think language is a bad thing and that psychological language or astrological language shouldn't be used. I don't think that at all. It is just that to take it literally calcifies it.
Nick Campion: There has been quite a movement in astrology over the last 15 years to go back to a more literal astrology. The whole so-called traditional revival in astrology, while opening up knowledge in one sense, can also provide a safe haven for astrologers who are looking for certainties.
Liz Greene: Well, the same thing has happened with religion. We are all very scared; at any time when there are odours wafting up of chaos, or of things breaking down and shifting at a rate of speed that we can't control, then a kind of panic sets in on a collective level. Then there is very much a movement toward structures that will sustain us, and this has afflicted astrology as well as every other area. And it isn't necessarily a bad thing either, because fear is fear, and safety is very attractive at such times. But it is always a good idea to have one's tongue firmly in one's cheek - even if you need a more literal approach - and to have some understanding of why it is needed at that time.
Nick Campion: Perhaps it's also good to have a sense of irony. In The Outer Planets and Their Cycles, you use the term "enantiodromia" in connection with the history of Israel. What you mean is a sense of cosmic irony in which events turn out the way they are not supposed to. Is this linked to the concept of the shadow?
Liz Greene: Enantiodromia occurs when an attitude becomes very, very extreme. It then has a tendency to flip into its opposite and start behaving exactly like the thing it is running away from. It isn't just to do with the shadow. What happens is that, when you make an effort to keep anything out because of a deep fear or because you are simply not ready to deal with certain things, then you pull all the way over to one side. The further you pull, the more extreme you get and the more you lose the place in the middle where you could actually contain opposites. It is very mysterious how this works. You then take on the face of the opponent and begin to behave exactly as the opponent does, all the while accusing them of doing the very thing that you yourself are doing. You and they are doing the same. The issues and ideas polarise between two camps, or two people, or two groups, or two collectives that have something secretly very much in common. But neither can bear to stay in the place in the middle and live with the thing in common.
Nick Campion: In view of what you have been saying about the need to stand back from our ideas and question our assumptions, one thing I have always liked about the Centre for Psychological Astrology is that there doesn't seem to be any set syllabus. The syllabus is in a perpetual state of evolution, a bit like Trotsky's or Mao's permanent revolution! You see somebody doing some interesting work, and you have them give a seminar. So, how's the Centre for Psychological Astrology doing at the moment?
Liz Greene: It is doing very well. As you say, it keeps metamorphosing, but not according to any imposition of a structure.
Nick Campion: From what you said earlier, the Swiss seminars sound as though they are particularly popular.
Liz Greene: I enjoy doing them in ZüŒrich just because it is a different collective. I learn different things from the people there. But the school has always had a kind of organic, Mercurial quality. It has the Sun in Gemini and a Mercurial tendency to keep shifting within a very, very loose structure. I have never had a grand scheme for it or a set idea of what I thought it should be. It seems to have become what it is through a number of different people having created ideas, through what students say they want, and through astrologers appearing who might make good tutors. The only things I have felt strongly about are, firstly, that it needs to stay small, which it always has, with no aspirations to become huge and unwieldily bureaucratic - thereby lies not just madness but defunctness. Secondly, there is no one system that is taught, no one approach, other than that the human psyche is at the centre of astrology, rather than the planets being perceived as things that do things to people.
Nick Campion: You said that the school has the Sun in Gemini. I didn't realise there was a definite foundation moment. I was just always aware of the evolution from the Centre for Transpersonal Psychology and then the Centre for Transpersonal Astrology.
Liz Greene: The Centre for Transpersonal Psychology was Ian Gordon-Brown and Barbara Somers's organisation. When we first gave the astrology seminars a loose umbrella name, we called it the Centre for Transpersonal Astrology, because there was the idea of twinning the astrological and psychological teaching. But then the word "Transpersonal" began to irk me, because it implied that the teaching was only going to be spiritual, so we changed it to "Psychological" in 1983. The chart is actually set for the time when that name was registered as a business name. It's not actually a business, but we registered the name. The chart appears to be sensitive to transits and progressed aspects. It's a Saturn-Pluto child, born under the 1983 conjunction in Libra.
Nick Campion: Does the word "transpersonal" definitely imply "spiritual" in your mind?
Liz Greene: It doesn't in my mind, but it does in a lot of other people's. Trans simply means "beyond," but it is often understood to mean "higher." The word itself doesn't trouble me, but how it is perceived does. I preferred something more neutral.
Nick Campion: Just to think about your teaching for a moment, I'm wondering which astrologers influenced you. You first studied with Isabel Hickey.
Liz Greene: Very briefly. I didn't really study with Isabel. I think I went to two of her classes, so I can't count her as my source of astrological knowledge.
Nick Campion: Are there any other names that you would pick out? Did you read Alan Leo or Dane Rudhyar?
Liz Greene: I read everybody. I have always read everything that I could get my hands on, so, yes, I read Leo, I read Charles Carter, I read Dane Rudhyar. I still read everyone I can. I have found all of them immensely valuable. But in terms of real inspiration, it has mainly come from outside of astrology. My main source of inspiration has either been from psychology - Jung and Freud - or from other symbolic systems, like alchemy and Tarot, or from literature or poetry, theatre, opera, Shakespeare.
Nick Campion: And Joseph Campbell?
Liz Greene: Yes, Joseph Campbell, to some extent. Also, a novelist called Mary Renault, who worked a lot with myths and fictionalised them into novels. W. B. Yeats has had a huge influence on me, though I can't explain exactly how. Thomas Mann has had an influence on me. Arthurian legends have had an influence on me, as have Plato, the Neoplatonists, and Marsilio Ficino. I can't say, "I learned my astrology from so-and-so." I learned a lot from Rudhyar and Leo. I am like a jackdaw. I find anybody useful who has anything worthwhile to say. I hope that I am fair about giving credit when I write books, and I will quote my sources. But my real inspiration has come from literature and from psychology, rather than from within astrology.
Nick Campion: What are you reading at the moment?
Liz Greene: I am reading a biography of the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. He is a great favourite of mine, and a new biography came out a few weeks ago.
Nick Campion: He erupted in a quick, Plutonian explosion as a drunken, lecherous, wild, profane, teenage poet in Paris and then disappeared off to Africa.
Liz Greene: Yes. But the poetry is the important thing, rather than the way he behaved. It is the poetry itself and the images that he uses. His use of symbolism is fascinating and penetrating.
Nick Campion: There is a vast world out there in the arts that astrologers often ignore - particularly in the visual arts - work constructed by people who were influenced by the same mode of thought as astrologers.
Liz Greene: My favourite painters, Moreau and Redon, were steeped in astrology, mythology, and hermetic thought, and their visual images are wonderful. As you say, astrologers don't utilise cross-links with the arts enough, even when they are describing the same thing.
Nick Campion: Whereas astrology necessarily converts symbols into words, the visual artists don't have to do that. They can just stay with the images.
Liz Greene: A lot of clients don't have the privilege of doing that either. Many clients cannot think in terms of intellectual formulations of what a planet is doing. If you show them a picture or tell them a story or give them a passage from a novel or a line of poetry, it may click, whereas all the pontificating in the world on a verbal level is not going to get through. So, it is of value, not just for opening our understanding of ourselves, but in working with people.
Nick Campion: That brings to mind the old Zen trick in which the master forces the student to stop thinking intellectually and to realise that words only work to a certain degree. Are you writing anything at the moment?
Liz Greene: I have three projects at various stages of gestation. There are always new CPA volumes, and right now I am working on a volume on Mars that includes seminars by me, Lynn Bell, Darby Costello, and Melanie Reinhart. It's called The Mars Quartet. Then I have another book in the pipeline with Juliet Sharman on the origins of Tarot symbolism. There is yet another project with my brother, Richard Leigh, which will touch on some of your ground about the millenarian use of astrology. For that I shall probably draw heavily on your book, The Great Year, which I found immensely useful.
Nick Campion: You must have published about 15 books by now.
Liz Greene: Maybe 20, because the CPA volumes tend to raise the total without my quite noticing that they are doing it.
Nick Campion: I'm looking forward to your next book already! Liz, this has been wonderful. Thank you!
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© 2001 Nicholas Campion - all rights reserved
Nick Campion is Past President of the Astrological Association of Great Britain. He has been a student of astrology since the early 1970s and has taught the subject since 1980 - for London's Camden Institute, the Faculty of Astrological Studies, and most recently, for Kepler College. He is also currently a graduate student in the Study of Religions Department at Bath Spa University College, England. Nick is the winner of the 1992 Marc Edmund Jones Award, the 1994 Prix Georges Antares, and the 1999 Spica Award for Professional Excellence. His books include Mundane Astrology and The Book of World Horoscopes. Information about these books is available on his Web site: www.nickcampion.com
 Liz Greene, Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil, Wellingborough, U.K.: Aquarian Press, 1976, p. 140.
 Liz Greene, The Outer Planets and Their Cycles, Reno, NV: CRCS, 1983, p. 50.
 Liz Greene, The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption, York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1996, p. 240.
 Liz Greene, The Outer Planets, p. 51; Relating, p. 272.
 Nicholas Campion, The Great Year: Astrology, Millenarianism and History in the Western Tradition, London: Penguin Arkana, 1994.