The first astrology book I ever read was Michel Gauquelin's The Truth About Astrology. To this day, I can't tell you why I bought a copy of it, because at the time astrology meant very little to me. I found it in a second hand book shop and was intrigued by it but, having only the vaguest understanding of birth charts, I had no context for its ideas. It wasn't until a few years later that I decided to study the subject seriously.
By contrast, the second astrology book I read had a very deep impact on me – it was Rob Hand's 'Horoscope Symbols', and I bought it the year I became a student at the Faculty of Astrological Studies, in 1995. For me, the book was hugely important, not just for the astrological information it contained but for the intellect which shone from its pages. Here was history, philosophy, science, astronomy, symbolism and psychological insight seamlessly connected within the same work – a book which elevated its subject through sheer breadth of knowledge. It stood head and shoulders above so many other books I had seen and it became a valuable and loved companion throughout my studies – so much so that the book eventually fell apart from over-use! I still read it and it still has the power to inspire me.
It is, of course, just one of a large number of books written by this giant of the astrological scene over the last four decades – Planets in Composite, Planets in Transit, Planets in Youth and Essays on Astrology are perhaps the best known, but there are also the translations and of Arabic and Medieval texts, books on planetary sect and the whole sign house system, ephemerides, and countless articles, commentaries and essays. Taken together, and set in the context of a continuous schedule of teaching and lecturing, it is an extraordinary corpus of work, a testament to the scope of Rob’s knowledge and scholarship. Who amongst us would learn Medieval Latin, so as to be able to translate original source texts? Which of us has studied the roots of our subject, both its history as a system of thought and the history of its practice, in such depth?
And then of course there is the pioneering work in astrological software in the 1970s and the founding of Astro-Graphics Services which eventually became Astrolabe, not to mention his involvement with Project Hindsight1 and his founding of ARHAT2. There’s the chairmanship of NCGR3 and the board of Kepler College, the winning of the Regulus Award (twice), the UAC Lifetime Achievement Award, and the AA’s own Charles Harvey Award. That’s even before we’ve got to the recent PhD at Catholic University. The kind way of putting it is that the work of Rob Hand has encouraged astrologers to raise their game and aim for the very highest standards in their own work – the honest truth is that he puts most of us in the shade.
The scholarship in itself would be astounding enough. But this is no theoretical academic – Rob has made his living as a consultant astrologer for over 4o years and is steeped in its practice, effortlessly blending the technical, the practical and the psychological, to the enrichment of each. I have seen him teach and lecture many times, and each time what strikes me most is his deep understanding of human nature – the gift of that Moon in Scorpio, I think – and the endless enthusiasm and warmth which is the best of Sagittarius.
Fast forward ten years to the Faculty of Astrological Studies Summer School, 2005 – it is late in the evening, I am looking down from my third-floor room at Brasenose College, Oxford, to the quadrangle below and I can see Rob sitting on a bench talking to a group of students. The students are seated in a semi-circle around him and I listen to their conversation rising up in the warm night air, the master craftsman surrounded by eager apprentices. The talk turns now to the philosophy of astrology, fate and free will, now to politics and the charts of world leaders, and on to history and psychology, and it is clear that the listeners are enthralled, drawn in ever more deeply by the insight and wisdom of the teacher among them. Long after all the other tutors are in bed, here is the most generous-spirited of them all, the tutor with a Stellium in Sagittarius and Jupiter in the 1st house trining Mars, as eager to impart his knowledge as the students are eager to learn. My imagination rolls back the centuries to witness the generations of learned teachers, long gone, who have offered their knowledge in similar fashion in this Oxford college, a living tradition of learning passed down the generations.
And it is a scene that has been repeated at Summer School every year since then, with Rob (a long-time Faculty of Astrological Studies Patron) becoming one of the most loved of all the guest tutors we have invited to the event, a good daemon whose presence inspires everyone. It's not just the erudition, the breadth of knowledge spanning everything from science to mysticism, ancient astrology to modern (note the Saturn-Uranus conjunction, with its gift for combining tradition and innovation), nor the precision with which he works – it's the generosity and humility with which this knowledge is offered that has so left its impression on me, marking him out as a true teacher, in love not only with his subject but with the important act of teaching it to the next generation of practitioners.
Born at the Saturn-Uranus conjunction in 1942, Rob learnt astrology from his father while still in his teens. He graduated in History at Brandeis University and took up graduate studies in the history of science at Princeton. I believe he became a professional astrologer around the time of his Saturn return in 1972, writing his first book, Planets in Composite, a few years later as Saturn crossed his Ascendant, followed quickly by Planets in Transit in 1976 and Planets in Youth in 1977. All three have proved best-sellers, with Planets in Composite essentially a ground-breaking volume (as so much of Rob's work has been) which laid the foundation for contemporary use and understanding of the composite chart in synastry.
Looking at his natal chart, none of this seems any surprise. The Sun-Mercury-Venus conjunction in Sagittarius catches the eye first of all, a signature for endless curiosity and love of learning, a capacity for far vision and the continual generation of new ideas – for Sun-Mercury in Sagittarius, there is always another landscape to visit, another subject to immerse oneself in, more things to learn. But the expansiveness of the Sagittarian spirit is given form and substance here by Saturn, opposing the Stellium – and in a chart which is rich in fire and water, but contains no planets in earth signs, I imagine this Saturn to have taken on a very important role. Here in this opposition it is possible to see the intellectual dexterity, the academic rigour, the constant shaping of new ideas through careful research and critical examination – the kind of person who takes the trouble to learn a Medieval language in order to further, not only his own knowledge, but the knowledge that is available to others. There is a philosopher in this opposition, the 'lover of wisdom', but one whose own wisdom is well-rooted in practical accomplishment.
But there is also depth here too, and a powerful intuition – Cancer rising, the Moon in Scorpio as ruling planet, Mars in Scorpio, and aspects from both luminaries to Pluto in the 1st. It might have been appropriate to print this chart in the whole sign house system, in honour of Rob, but I have stuck with Equal House, mindful that this piece represents entirely my own perspective – and so I have given myself permission to see this as a 1st house Pluto which, along with Jupiter and the Stellium opposing Saturn, mark this man out as an intellectual heavyweight. I looked up 'Arhat' online and discovered that (apart from being an acronym for Rob's archive) it is also a Sanskrit word meaning 'one who has gained insight into the nature of existence' – that sounds about right to me.
As someone with a strong Gemini emphasis in my own chart, including the Sun, Ascendant and ruling planet, but no planets in Sagittarius, the sign of the archer is a source of never-ending curiosity and fascination – and it is no coincidence, I think, that I have chosen a 'hero' here whose three Sagittarian planets sit on my Descendant. Rob Hand has been a constant inspiration to me over the years, as I know he is to so many others.
And what next for a man at the height of his intellectual powers, having just completed a PhD? Well, a new book is coming out soon, of course.....
1 Project Hindsight was founded in 1992 by Rob Hand, Robert Schmidt, Robert Zoller and Ellen Black.
2 ARHAT is the Archive for the Retrieval of Historical Astrological Texts (now Arhat Media, Inc). It is Rob's archive and publishing company holding translations of ancient, classical and medieval astrological texts – you can find it at http://www.arhatmedia.com/
3 NCGR: The National Council for Geocosmic Research
Carole Taylor has been a professional astrologer for thirteen years, developing her craft through teaching and client work. During this time she has been a tutor for both distance learning and classes at the Faculty of Astrological Studies, and a contributor to its written course material. For several years she was the organiser of the Faculty’s annual Summer School in Oxford, becoming the Faculty’s President and Director of Studies in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in: The Astrological Journal, November/December 2013
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