The traditional way of interpreting charts is to focus on character delineations and fated events, treating both as relatively fixed outcomes. Conversely, a psychological approach views the horoscope as an evolving story that reflects a process of growth over time. Character and events are still delineated, but no longer in terms of fixed outcomes; rather, events are interpreted as vehicles for facilitating a process of characterological development.
In effect, we all have – or, more accurately are – a story that we self-construct, amend, and revise over the course of our lives. While the story invariably conforms to the range of parameters indicated by the astrological chart, there is more than one possible version depending upon the level of integration at which the chart is expressed.
As character evolves, so also does one’s narrative of the outer world. The upgraded, revised story supplants its more limited predecessor, leading to increasingly satisfying experiences. Seen in this way, the astrological chart is a kind of living document, or life script, which allows for continuing amendments and revisions. I especially like the word ‘script’ because it conveys the idea not only of story, but also of a set of instructions that are written down, as in ‘a script to follow’. That, in fact, is my thesis: the astrological chart is both a story and a set of instructions for living – that is, for evolving.
The situation is not unlike the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day, in which Murray’s character, Phil Collins, a narcissistic weatherman with sardonic contempt for everyone around him, finds himself trapped within the confines of a particular day in a specific locale – Punxsutawney Pennsylvania – and is forced to relive the same day, over and over again. Once he realizes and accepts his plight, Collins uses his foreknowledge to advantage, exploiting the townspeople for his own self-aggrandizement. Soon, however, he realizes the utter emptiness of this strategy and collapses into suicidal despair. Eventually he begins to experiment with other possibilities the day offers, seizing available opportunities to develop creative talents and engage in altruistic acts. As the days roll by, Collins evolves, and appears happier. Moreover, he becomes increasingly integrated into the fabric of the community, until finally he is the most beloved person in town.
I am particularly fond of this film because I think it metaphorically encapsulates the human predicament. The astrological chart defines the parameters of an individual’s life, much like Phil Collins’ Groundhog Day defined his. While the entire chart manifests externally in the guise of the people and circumstances we attract, astrology reveals that these are simply mirrors of internal correlates, providing appropriate vehicles for the further evolution of soul.
Like Phil Collins’ predicament in Punxsutawney, every person is constrained by the fate that their chart decrees; yet, they are also free to experiment with new attitudes and behaviours within the framework of that fate. As they learn from the consequences of their own choices, and as they utilize opportunities to develop innate capacities more fully, their life pattern is gradually modified, allowing for more rewarding experiences, increasing degrees of satisfaction, and deeper connections with others. In effect, an astrological chart and the life it reflects is characterized by fixed rules and flexible strategies. One can never escape the fixed positions of the natal planets and the requirements they impose; yet, one’s strategies and capacities for meeting those requirements can forever evolve.
In a very real sense, every birthchart is a kind of allegory, a didactic narrative that uses an interdependent set of personified abstractions to convey a message, usually moralistic. Characters, objects and events in an allegory are to be taken, not as merely real but as standing for some set of ideas; that is, each item in the narrative is equated with some item among the ideas. George Orwell’s Animal Farm, for example, is an allegory about the communist revolution in Russia in which pigs represent the Bolsheviks. The pigs are real characters in his story, but they also symbolize communist beliefs and practices. Likewise with the natal chart, the actual people one engages are not merely real, but also representative of psychological variables as symbolized by corollary signs, planets, and houses associated with those figures. These psychological variables are the motivations, feelings, and attitudes that comprise our interior life.
As an allegory, the astrological chart has a systematic and complicated structure of equivalents. One’s mother is one’s mother, of course, but she also embodies a specific archetype that has a corresponding meaning on an internal level. Actual experiences with the mother both foreshadow and signify the individual’s capacity for caring, tenderness, and sympathetic understanding, as symbolized by the Moon. Taken as a whole, the concrete elements of a person’s life are both real and representative of underlying needs, functions, values, ideas, and conflicts, all of which are symbolized by the astrological chart.
An allegory always has a message, or moral, which summarizes the lesson that the main character has to learn. This takes place through a recurring sequence of events that constitute plot structure. As incidents accumulate that have a similar meaning, there is a gradual elevation of awareness that reaches a critical pitch, a tipping point; suddenly, the protagonist has a clear, conscious revelation that propels the story towards resolution of the main conflict.
It is the same with the astrological chart. The arrangement of planets constitutes a pattern, a plot structure of sorts, which invariably includes certain conflicts and tensions. Internally, these tensions are experienced as painful memories, attendant defences, and self-limiting ideas that accrue over time as the pattern repeats. Externally, these psychological conflicts are compulsively re-enacted in adult experiences that mirror the internal conflict and provide a vehicle for its eventual resolution. To resolve the conflict is to learn the lesson; this is the moral of the story implicit in every birthchart.
Such an approach to the horoscope is consistent with what psychologists call narrative therapy or personal mythology.(i) A narrative perspective holds that human beings are better understood by a metaphor of story than of ‘thing’. The thing approach, which is the traditional way of conceptualizing personality, is reflected in the current tendency to reduce people to biological machines that need to be medicated to function properly. Likewise, people are made into things when they are diagnosed as obsessives, borderlines, narcissists, or any other category of mental disorder that implies individuals are a disease. The thing approach is also implicit in reducing people to static character types – extravert, feeling type, or simply a number if you ascribe to the Enneagram typology.
Personally, I abhor typologies, even astrological ones that reduce people to signs or planets, e.g., he’s a Scorpio, or she’s a Neptunian. Typologies tend to be reductionistic, linear, simplistic, static, objectifying, pathologizing, and dehumanizing. I think people are better described as stories, because stories are complex, nonpathologizing, have movement built into them, and symbolize a process of change that leads toward resolution of conflict and growth of character.
It is precisely astrology’s potential to objectify the internal story that makes it such a useful tool for conscious evolution. Once a person recognizes that he or she is an embodied, self-created story with a specific evolutionary trajectory, there is freedomto improvise and move the story forward toward all that one can be.
Again, all the elements of a story are implicit in the horoscope. The planets are the characters – both inner and outer – which are motivated by specific concerns and have potentials for certain kinds of action. They perform their roles in various settings – houses – and interact among themselves – aspects – in the process of striving to attain their goals. Of necessity, conflicts arise, as reflected by hard aspects, which the life is then dedicated to resolving. Taken as a whole, the chart reflects character structure and plot structure. In effect, plot is the unfoldment of character. The inner logic of this unfoldment is displayed in the chain of dispositorships that link planets together, thus revealing the structure of action in the life. This ‘process structure’ usually revolves around a central question, which is the main theme or moral of the story and the life purpose of the individual.
Astrology teaches us that identities are neither simple nor fixed; rather, people are complex and continually changing in response to transits and progressions. Each planet in the natal chart constitutes a sub-personality, or part-self. These sub-personalities have the potential to become increasingly differentiated over time, and, with sufficient effort, can be gradually integrated into a more-or-less unified Self that allows for the free and open expression of its various parts.
People are not only multi-selved, they are multi-storied. There are many possible stories symbolized by a single horoscope. Identities (or stories) are constructed from the meanings we give to experience, starting in infancy and extending into adulthood. Our capacity to create meaning is a product of free will; thus, meanings are freely chosen, even if certain experiences are to some degree fated by our charts. How we interpret our experience constructs a world-concept and a self-concept, which combine to produce a life-story or ‘script’. As the person matures, so does the story, edited and revised to honour the growth that’s occurred and setting the stage for yet new transformations. Stories, like people, evolve.
In effect, stories are built up from meanings that are inferred from experience. Because many of these constructions were laid down in childhood, and thus form the bedrock of our personal theory of reality, they are necessarily narrow, arbitrary, and distorted. Worse, they can be grim, false, and self-limiting. They often predict that bad things will happen if we pursue our basic needs, and cause us to adapt solutions that create the very suffering they were designed to avoid.
Maladaptive beliefs and false ideas operate like self-fulfilling prophecies. They predict and are designed to prevent suffering; yet, they actually bring about poverty, loneliness, shame, estrangement, betrayal, loss, failure, and disappointment of every known variety. The good news is that we can amend these stubborn fictions by becoming aware of them, and there is no better way of doing this than through study of one’s astrological chart.
The interactions of planet, sign and house form the sentences of our story. Various grammatical rules can be utilized for constructing sentences. On a behavioural level, for example, Mars in Sagittarius in the 10th can mean: “He pioneered a new theory, which launched his career”. At an experiential level, it can also mean, “My father was an angry man, especially about religion and politics; he taught me that people in authority often make up laws for reasons of expediency and personal gain”. Of course, these are but two of innumerable possible meanings of this configuration. To be fully accurate with one’s interpretations, one must dialogue with the client and include them in a construction of meaning.
By synthesizing the relevant variables – planet, sign, and house – it is possible to elaborate planetary sign-house sentences into paragraphs. Taking every planet and treating it in a similar manner, we would have about ten paragraphs, all of which are descriptive of the probable behaviour and experiences of the person involved. A narrative, however, is not told by paragraphs alone. In order to be fully understood by a reader, it must be unified and coherent. Each paragraph should be logically related to the others so that taken together they constitute a plot structure. Plot can be gleaned only by looking at the story as a whole. It is the same with the astrological chart. The individual is not simply a conglomerate of disparate and unrelated parts, but a complex network of interlocking needs and functions. We call this approach to the chart synergistic, meaning that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The process of constructing a story from the chart can be outlined
as follows: planets symbolize the story’s characters; the signs
they rule represent underlying motives; the signs they occupy signify
roles and behavioural styles; and the houses they tenant depict the
various settings that provide a background for the story’s action.
Planetary aspects and dispositors reveal the overall story line (plot).
Hard aspects can represent maladaptive beliefs that symbolize the main
theme or conflict of the narrative. Finally, dispositors link signs,
planets, and houses together into a continuous and flowing whole, thus
revealing the story’s skeletal structure and unfolding sequence.
Plot constitutes the arrangement of elements in a story and is characterized by a recurring sequence of events that are all related to a central question. This sequence makes up the plot’s pattern; incidents keep occurring that have a similar meaning or quality. Pattern is not simply a mechanical repetition, but a process of stages in progression. Each incident brings about a modification in awareness that leads toward resolution of the core conflict.
A chart has a plot, too. Just as the planets and their various relations symbolize one’s character, so they also symbolize the plot of one’s story. Each planetary character represents a type of action, which serves as a catalyst for the action of its dispositor. For example, expression of Mars in Sagittarius in the 10th activates Jupiter in Libra in the 8th. The individual may initially assert an opinion about cut-throat competition in the corporate world, and then feel stimulated to lecture on the significance of collaboration and partnership as an antidote. Expression of Jupiter in Libra in the 8th becomes a catalyst for Venus in Leo in the 6th, and so on around the wheel. Taken as a whole, the chart symbolizes the sequence of action.
An astrological chart has a pattern; incidents of the same or similar quality keep recurring, e.g., an individual continually experiences the same kind of outcomes in his relationships, career, or finances. Ideally, pattern is not simply repetition, but constitutes a path of evolutionary unfoldment. Each incident can elevate awareness, which leads toward a progressive development and integration of character. Every new episode has the potential to deepen and heighten consciousness, like a spiral top that gradually expands. People learn, develop insight, and realize their potentials over time. In this sense, plot is an unfolding of character; fate is soul spread out in time. One could even say that fate is the means whereby soul unifies itself.
As an evolutional pattern, fate first manifests in childhood and establishes the conditions that are necessary for the fulfilment of the soul’s destiny. This is act one, which introduces the main characters – parents, siblings, teachers, friends and foes – as well as the central challenge and theme of the story. From a conventional, linear perspective, there is a tendency to assume that the trials and tribulations of childhood are the cause of later, adult psychopathology. Yet, a narrative metaphor suggests that fate merely sets the stage and provides the necessary incentive for the unfoldment of a larger drama that includes acts two and three. The life-pattern of the chart does not unfold in a linear, cause-effect, deterministic manner with one event leading inexorably to the next. Rather, it unfolds holonomically, with every segment of time from birth to death encapsulating the whole pattern. The part reflects the whole.
According to Jung, archetypes are both purposive and psychoid, meaning that they shape matter as well as mind in specific directions. Accordingly, their outward manifestation in childhood has meaning. Emotionally charged events constitute information that informs the child and inclines him or her in a certain direction. This necessarily implicates what Jung called the Self – the totality of the psyche that includes its relations with the environment by virtue of symbolic correspondences. The Self is analogous to what in Hindu traditions is called Atman, the core divinity within, which is identical with Brahman, the Soul and Intelligence of the Universe. As an image of wholeness yet to be attained, the Self orchestrates events to compensate for what is unconscious, unintegrated, and unbalanced within the existent structure of the psyche. In so doing, the Self functions as an evolutionary field – a kind of transcendent consciousness immanent within personal experiences – that pulls development towards an ideal state of balance and wholeness.
All of this is consistent with what Jungian analyst Edward Whitmont calls the destiny concept.(ii) Certain childhood events seem to entail insertion into the present of information that derives from one’s deepest, but as yet unknown identity; in other words, from the future. To achieve wholeness and realize the Self, the individual is required to experience a specific pattern of events that is designed to facilitate an evolutionary process unique to that person. “Thus destiny, or fate”, says Whitmont “is the unfoldment of the Self-archetype in time and space”. This need not imply an absolute determinism, for self-realization requires the cooperation and creative participation of the individual. Rather than constituting a fixed script, the life-pattern symbolized by the birthchart allows for learning, improvisation, and improvement in performance over time.
As the action of the chart unfolds, there are invariably conflicts and allegiances that form between the various planets that make up the narrative. As archetypal characters, planets symbolize specific types of action, and every action has the potential for harmonizing or conflicting with other types of action. The challenge of any life story is to resolve conflicts and knit parts together into a harmonious, multifaceted whole. To the extent that this is accomplished, one becomes a person of good character, i.e. one attains integrity.
Conflict is essential to stories. This is as true for the average person as it is for the protagonists of myth and literature. Conflict is what drives a story forward. No conflict, no story. In external conflict, characters struggle against the environment or with each other. In internal conflict, one part of the psyche struggles against another part; motives clash and ideas vie for dominance. In most stories, a strong element of inner conflict balances the outer conflict. To understand a story it is crucial to determine the nature of the conflict and the pattern that the opposing forces assume. Toward this end, the astrological chart is an invaluable aid, for almost invariably there is at least one central conflict clearly revealed in the horoscope.
Planetary aspects symbolize the various types of relation – some conflictive, some harmonizing – that exist between parts of psychological structure. Aspects not only signify the organization of the internal world; they also describe how the external world is structured. Planetary archetypes are non-local entities that manifest simultaneously in both inner and outer events. Just as in stories, inner conflicts tend to be balanced by outer conflicts.
In the beginning of a story, there is generally some situation that entails a lack of wholeness – in other words, a conflict between characters, within a character, or both. Stories can be thought of in terms of problem and solution, conflict and repose, tension and resolution. Whether and how the conflict is resolved constitutes the main question of the drama. This is what creates suspense.
Again, a story can be seen as a metaphor for a person. Just as stories denote conflicts between characters, so every person experiences internal conflict between the various parts of his nature. The planetary archetypes make up our inner cast of characters. Whereas one part of our nature may be quite compatible with another part, for example our maternal instinct (Moon) may form an alliance (conjunction) with our inner warrior (Mars) so that we are fierce in our capacity to protect, other parts of the psyche may be at war. Our impulse for pleasure (Venus) may be at odds (opposition) with the drive for perfection (Saturn) so that we feel undeserving of pleasure. This may show up in the outer world as an interpersonal conflict; one person craves the pleasures of physical intimacy, the other withholds. The outer conflict reflects the inner one while also providing a vehicle for its resolution.
Purely physical conflict does not denote a story. A story requires characterization. There have to be characters who arouse sympathy or antipathy. We have to evaluate the ideas or motives that underlay the external conflict. We may sympathize with one character’s perspective, and feel hostile toward another. Sympathy and antipathy, a conflict of ideas, are what make up a story.
In astrology, too, the horoscope reveals how the individual may be more sympathetic toward some planets than others. Conflicting emotions and motivations are portrayed by hard aspects between planets, e.g., the antagonism between family ties and adult partnerships (Moon square Venus), or disharmony between one’s rational and imaginative sides (Mercury opposite Neptune). These conflicts often emerge as pathogenic beliefs – negative ideas – that express pessimism or fear about the relative likelihood of meeting the needs symbolized by the respective planets.
For example, an individual with Mercury opposite Neptune may fear that denial and deception (Neptune) will cloud reason and obscure facts (Mercury). Seeking an appropriate vehicle to work out his inner conflict, he may subsequently become obsessed with disproving the claims of paranormal researchers, arguing that psi phenomena (precognition, telepathy, and clairvoyance) are delusions perpetrated by Hollywood, and that fantasy is the enemy of science. To the extent that he sides with Mercury at the expense of Neptune, he forfeits awareness of his own psi potentials and attracts experiences that continually challenge him to amend his one-sided view. Negative ideas generate self-defeating behaviours that perpetuate external conflicts and frustration of needs, and so the story goes.
The relation between character and events is a fundamental principle of organization in astrology, just as it is in stories. In story, plot is the unfolding of character; in astrology, character is destiny. Just as in every story there is an obvious external conflict and a less obvious internal conflict in the hero’s mind, so every planetary configuration has an objective and subjective meaning.
An aspect, for example, symbolizes a facet of character and a characteristic event. If an individual believes that he can never truly belong (Moon) unless he achieves distinction in his profession (Saturn), while also fearing that too much work will jeopardize his relations with his family, this internal conflict of Moon-Saturn ideas may emerge externally as a situation in which his wife accuses him of neglecting their children in favour of his career.
Often these conflicts appear as impossible predicaments for which there is no solution. Yet, it is the challenge of the life to integrate the respective planetary functions, and in so doing bring into being a unique talent or accomplishment that resolves the conflict. Perhaps our Moon-Saturn man builds a company that provides a protective service to the community, an accomplishment that ultimately allows him to spend more time with his family. The astrological chart can reveal core conflicts in the person, but free will and personal responsibility determine whether and how these conflicts are resolved. In this regard, a narrative approach to the chart recognizes the inherent indeterminacy of chart outcomes, while also supporting the individual in actualizing his or her highest potential.In every story, there is a key moment that brings into focus all previous events and suddenly reveals their meaning. It is the moment of illumination for the whole story, the instant in which the underlying unity is perceived as inherent in the complexity. Likewise in an astrological chart, there is a potential unity that is inherent in the complexity of the various parts and relations. If the chart is properly interpreted, this wholeness can be illumined. Suddenly the native sees his life as all of a piece; there is an “ah ha!” recognition. Most importantly, he realizes that the main conflict of his life provides an opportunity for learning a lesson and for actualizing a potential that can be achieved only by working through complexity, complication, and confusion – just as in any good story. Pointing the way toward such a happy ending is one of the main values of interpreting a birthchart.
i Freedman, J., & Combs, G. (1996). Narrative therapy: The social construction of preferred realities. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Also, see Feinstein, D., and Krippner, S. (2008), Personal Mythology: Using ritual, dreams, and imagination to discover your inner story. Santa Rosa, CA: Elite Books.
ii Whitmont, E. (2007). ‘The Destiny Concept in Psychotherapy’, Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice. Vol. 9, No.1, 2007, pp. 25-26.
iii This article was abstracted from Perry, G. (2012), An Introduction to AstroPsychology. Haddam Neck, CT: AAP Press (available at www.createspace.com/3793274)
First published by: The Astrological Journal, Nov/Dec 2009
Glenn Perry, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist in Haddam Neck, Connecticut. In addition to private practice, Dr. Perry lectures internationally on the application of astrology to the fields of counselling and psychotherapy. He has written eight books, including Introduction to AstroPsychology. Glenn serves as qualitative research advisor for ISAR and is currently president of the Academy of AstroPsychology (AAP), an online school that provides graduate level courses in psychological astrology. Website: www.aaperry.com
All images CC0 Creative Commons via pixabay.com
© Glenn Perry - 2009/2017
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