The Lens of Astrology / Part 1
Interview with Liz Greene, by Nicholas Campion
Liz Greene and I met in London on August 14, 2001, to discuss her work in astrology - and her attitudes toward it. In Part One of this interview (which appeared in The Mountain Astrologer, Dec. 2001/Jan. 2002), we talked about Liz's thoughts on the current Saturn-Pluto opposition. In Part Two, we cover her background in astrology and her conclusions concerning its nature and practice.
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: Liz, a fairly crucial question to start: How exactly did you get into astrology? Was it a gradual discovery or a sudden revelation?
Liz Greene: It was probably more sudden than gradual. I don't remember a time when I wasn't conscious of astrology; going back to childhood, I think it was always there. I had no issue about it, but when I was at university, I went to an astrologer to have my own chart done, and that was really the kick off. It intrigued me, and I wanted to know how it worked, so I started teaching myself.
Nick Campion: You must have been in your early twenties.
Liz Greene: I was nineteen. I had some friends who were going to see Isabel Hickey, and they said, "Why don't you go and get your chart done?" So, she was the person. She seems to have been the main astrological figure on the East Coast of the United States at that time. A lot of people knew her, including Howard Sasportas and Darby Costello. Many people passed through Isabel Hickey's portals. She was a fairly die-hard theosophist, very esoterically inclined and quite dogmatic. But her astrology was sound, and her belief system suited the times.
Nick Campion: And what were you studying at university?
Liz Greene: Psychology.
Nick Campion: Was that your major long-term interest?
Liz Greene: Yes. It started when I found a copy of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams at the age of twelve.
Nick Campion: So, you were a child prodigy?
Liz Greene: Well, I was certainly a child Freudian!
Nick Campion: Was discovering Freud a real revelation?
Liz Greene: It was a major revelation. Suddenly the penny dropped. It wasn't that everything Freud said immediately made sense to me, but the presentation of the fact that human beings have another side that they don't know about - that there are unconscious processes always at work in them - made perfect sense. I knew that anyway, but nobody would believe me. So, here was a piece of writing that confirmed what was clearly visible to me at a very young age. I started investigating. I started reading anything I could on psychology, as well as any literature that dealt with psychological issues. My inspiration was mainly psychology and psychologically inspired literature rather than astrology.
Nick Campion: Was your psychology degree Freudian-oriented? Was it behavioural?
Liz Greene: It was behavioural.
Nick Campion: Rats in cages?
Liz Greene: Yes, rats in cages. And lots of sociology and statistics, which I hated. But I think I understood, even then, that it was necessary to have a piece of paper, a qualification, so I put up with it.
Nick Campion: So, you discovered astrology while you were studying for your degree. Did astrology then open something up when you were nineteen, like the discovery of Freud had when you were twelve?
Liz Greene: Yes, certainly. Astrology made sense of psychology. Exactly as when I discovered Freud, something suddenly went "click". Astrology showed me aspects of ourselves that we don't normally notice, facets of life which we don't usually understand.
Nick Campion: And so you saw an immediate connection between astrology and the psychology you had already been studying. At what point, then, did you discover Jung?
Liz Greene: I read Jung at some point in my teens, but it didn't quite make sense in the same way as Freud. But I went back to his writing in my twenties, and then it clicked.
Nick Campion: And that took place in the light of astrology?
Liz Greene: Yes.
Nick Campion: Were you, at that time, working in the professional world of psychology?
Liz Greene: After I took my doctorate, I did fairly conventional, orthodox psychotherapy, including some Freudian techniques. I hadn't done any formal Jungian training at that point. I didn't do that until much later, in 1980. Before that, I did some training with Ian Gordon-Brown and Barbara Somers at the Centre for Transpersonal Psychology in London. That began to give me what I wanted - something that was very deep and thorough, that I could get my teeth into and work with in depth.
Nick Campion: Psychoanalysis gave you that depth?
Liz Greene: Well, yes, Jung's version of it. I am not a Jungian any more than I am any sort of -ian or -ist, but I felt the training had more scope to help people than the Freudian training.
Nick Campion: Jung himself drew so much from astrology and the esoteric traditions that it is perhaps easier to bring the two together than is the case with, say, Freud and astrology. You moved to London in the early 1970s. I remember seeing your name in Time Out, the London listings magazine, as teaching astrology classes for an alternative organisation and thinking: "Oh, I should go to those" and then getting swept up in something else.
Liz Greene: That was in 1975-76. The organisation was called Gentle Ghost.
Nick Campion: Since then, in all your years of teaching and working with astrology, have you come to a working definition of it?
Liz Greene: Nice question! Not a definition in a "carved-in-granite" sense, no. For me, astrology is a symbolic system. It is a lens or a tool which utilises particular kinds of symbolic images or patterns to make sense of deeper patterns inherent in life that are otherwise impossible to grasp on an intellectual level, even though it is possible to experience them in other, non-intellectual ways. It is a means by which life can be interpreted in terms of the underlying patterns of its rubric. And that's why I think all the other lenses - like the Tarot, Kabbalah, mythology, literature, poetry, drama, painting, sculpture - are all not only equally valid ways of apprehending those patterns, but have fed into astrology while astrology has fed into them. I don't think there is such a thing as pure astrology. To say that is like saying there's a pure English race. Astrology is a lens, a system of symbols.
Nick Campion: It seems to me that, if we take the definition of astrology as a lens, this implies that the astrologer is looking at something; in that case, we can choose to put the emphasis either on what is being looked at or on the looker, the astrologer. Then we can ask different questions, examining how astrologers' perceptions determine their astrology, or we can talk about what they are looking at, what they are seeing through the lens. Does the lens distort it? Are astrologers looking at anything real? Do you believe that there is something real out there that is astrology and that we are actually looking at?
Liz Greene: It depends on what you mean by "real." The zodiac doesn't exist in concrete terms. It is the apparent path of the Sun around the Earth, which we have divided into twelve segments; each segment is assigned an image and a set of meanings and behaviour patterns. But the zodiac doesn't exist in the sense that there are animals floating out there. So, on one level, the whole system is not real. This table we're sitting at now is the kind of thing that we define as real. If you take reality as something subtler, and you approach reality as being the connections, links, resonances, or correspondences between things, then, yes, these patterns are real. But there is no way that they can be measured in a quantifiable sense, according to instruments of so-called reality. When you ask me that, the whole problem is that I don't know what you mean by real. Or, rather, I do know what you mean, but if Richard Dawkins asked, "Is it real?" he would mean something quite different by "real" than I do.
Nick Campion: I was using "real" in the Richard Dawkins sense.
Liz Greene: In that sense, no, astrology is not real. This doesn't mean that it doesn't exist or that it is not valid, but in his sense, no, I don't think astrology is real. I believe there is an objective patterning or interconnectedness or unity of some kind or a set of resonances. You can use any phrase you like, whether it is mystical or hermetic or any other language you fancy. And it does exist outside us. It's not just in the perceptions of astrologers.
Nick Campion: You open Relating with a powerful quote from Gerhard Dorn, talking about the unity of everything:
Knowest thou not that heaven and the elements were formerly one, and they were separated from one another by divine artifice, that they might bring forth thee and all things? If thou knowest this, the rest cannot escape thee. Therefore in all generation a separation of this kind is necessary'. Thou wilt never make from others the One which thou seekest except first there be made one thing of thyself.
That's a very strong statement of the idea that astrology flows naturally from an understanding of the unity of heaven and earth and of the notion that the astrological experience begins with us. You also acknowledged modern, quantity-based science in the same book, and I'm wondering whether you still agree with words that you wrote 25 years ago. You said that "astrology is ... a map of the system of laws by which the energies of life operate - an astrology vindicated by statistical research and scientific investigation." Does that represent your current thinking? I am interested in that statement because it has been claimed that there has been a change in how astrologers view scientific research and statistics as a way of validating astrology, and that negative statistical results have encouraged an anti-scientific stance amongst astrologers. So, has your own view changed since 1977?
Liz Greene: I think that research is very valuable in astrology, in the sense that it can highlight patterns. Sometimes research reveals patterns that we don't expect, and our assumptions are challenged. So, yes, it is very valuable for us to do statistical research. However, I don't think it is valid from the point of view of trying to prove that astrology works, because if you have the kind of mentality that is dead-set against astrology, you will try to blow holes in the statistics anyway. And usually you can take any set of statistics and destroy it. Astrologers can pursue statistical research for their own purposes, but there is no point in trying to convince skeptics. If I do 300 charts during the course of a year for people born with the Sun opposite Saturn, and 80% of them either had fathers who left them when they were young, or fathers who died early, or fathers who abandoned them before they were born, or fathers who were cold and distant, that's statistical research. I can then say: "Well, 80% of the 300 Sun-Saturn charts that I have done have this kind of psychological pattern." It may then be useful for me to explore further what that Sun-Saturn aspect means. But if I took that research to somebody who defines statistical research in a more "scientific" sense, they would say: "Three hundred people is nothing. What you need is 3,000 and a neutral control group." Whatever you do, they'll find a way to set other tests. I think the research we do is very important for us. Whether it convinces anybody outside, I don't really care, to be quite honest. I think we need to do it for our own constant development.
Nick Campion: Then it seems to me that, in terms of definitions of research, what you have just outlined is a qualitative approach based on case studies.
Liz Greene: Yes, in small or large quantities.
Nick Campion: The issue of whether there is anything in astrology that is "out there" and "real" often comes down to the claims astrologers make for particular techniques or ways of constructing a horoscope and the house system. Competing house systems is one of the main problems in astrology from that point of view, quite apart from the problem of the sidereal versus tropical zodiacs. How do we decide which house system to use, let alone which zodiac? You once said that "you should use the house system that works for you." That sounds like you are putting the astrologer in the centre of the equation, rather than the astrology.
Liz Greene: Only in part. I think that all these different structural approaches open a window on something, but it is a narrow window and no single one of them reveals the whole landscape. I think that's why they all have validity to some astrologers but not to others.
Nick Campion: So would you agree with astrologers who say that astrologers get the clients that they need?
Liz Greene: Yes.
Nick Campion: If you follow that idea through, then it is a very provocative one: There is a client somewhere, in a distant place, who is suddenly moved at a particular time to phone you up and ask: "Can you read my chart?" Is there a sense in which you are summoning that person?
Liz Greene: I don't know if it is summoning. I think we are back to resonances again. Let's say the Saturn-Pluto opposition is coming into square to your Sun, and that represents some kind of symbolic picture of what you yourself become at a certain time. You experience, or are buffeted by, or get in touch with, a particular kind of energy. It is both inside you and outside you. You may experience certain kinds of things in your life connected with that opposition. How you deal with them is very individual. You may say, "Right! This is a very hard, tough aspect. I am going to do a Ph.D. under this one" and make some use of it. Or you may lie back and be a victim and say, "Oh, someone's broken into my house" or "There's a riot down the road and they burnt my car" or whatever. The nature of the experience is connected to how able you are to deal with what you are at that moment. But equally, as an astrologer, you may get a whole run of clients who are resonating to what you are going through. So, you may see lots of Scorpios, lots of Capricorns, or people who are getting hit by that opposition themselves. People may come to you with a mirror that in some way resonates to the same thing you are resonating to. I don't think the astrologer summons the client. Rather, when you arrive at a certain point, things that resonate with that will come into your life. It is not causal.
Nick Campion: If you use the word "resonating" to a materialist scientist like Richard Dawkins, he would no doubt have a physical explanation of what resonance is. Are you using the word in a poetic way?
Liz Greene: Well, it is also literal. If you hit a tuning fork, and there is a properly tuned guitar sitting next to it, there will be an audible resonance. However, if the guitar tuning is imprecise, there will be nothing. That kind of resonance happens on a physical level.
Nick Campion: Does that mean that we all respond to the music of the spheres?
Liz Greene: I think that we are part of the music, too. It is a chain of constant chords and resonances.
Nick Campion: Let's go back to your example of the Saturn-Pluto opposition. If somebody with that transit can choose either to be a victim or to pursue a very structured path, like taking a university degree, then what is the nature of that choosing? Is the ability to make a choice itself linked to another astrological pattern in the chart?
Liz Greene: No. There is something that operates within resonances which psychology calls consciousness. I certainly don't have a definition of what that is, except that it is Mercurial. Consciousness is like the Mercurial figure in alchemy. It isn't limited by or bound by astrological patterns. Consciousness inhabits and expresses through those patterns, yet it can operate outside and within and around them, and it is what allows us to make choices. I think that it's what transforms our way of responding to these patterns. Either we simply are the pattern and we enact it blindly, which is what happens in all the animal kingdoms, or we bring that element of consciousness to bear. The pattern doesn't then go away, but it gets more notes in its chord.
Nick Campion: Are you saying that consciousness is somehow something extra to astrology, something beyond astrology?
Liz Greene: Yes, I think it is.
Nick Campion: That sounds like what the Neo-platonic philosophers would have called Soul. They would have said the Soul is above the body, above the stars, even. But if consciousness is beyond astrology, what about the so-called conscious planets in the horoscope, like Mercury, Venus, and Mars, as opposed to the outer, unconscious planets?
Liz Greene: No planet is guaranteed to be conscious. The planets should be seen as representing patterns. If an individual is aware of the pattern within them, the planet is being expressed consciously, but, just because it is an inner planet, that doesn't necessarily make the pattern conscious. Experience has taught me that. People may wander around totally unconscious of what the Moon means in them or what Venus means in them. Whatever pattern of motivation the planets represent is part of human nature, but we can be totally oblivious of it. We project it, we are at its mercy, we are buffeted by it, we become it, we identify with it, we're run dry by it, but we are utterly unaware that it is us. It looks like it is "out there" or it is happening to us, but it is in us - it is us. The fact that it is inner, though, is no guarantee of its being in any way connected with consciousness.
Nick Campion: But how do we know when we are actually being conscious of something?
Liz Greene: Hard to explain, that one. It has something to do with a sense of standing in a still centre and being aware - not just on an intellectual level but all the way through - of something that you know as your self, but at the same time you are not identified with it. There's some kind of space between you and it. So, if I am having a Mars transit today, and you say the wrong thing and I get really angry, then if I am unconscious of that anger, I just become angry. I don't even know I am angry. Out come the abusive words, or I take a swipe at you, or I pour my water over you. There's nobody home in the sense of a conscious individual. I have no idea of what I am about to do, what I am about to say, what I feel. I just act and then I say: "Oh, I am terribly sorry, I just lost my temper, I didn't mean to." However, if I am aware, then I hear what you said, and I know I am angry, and at that moment I may even know why I am angry. I may feel the anger, but I am not the anger, which means that I can say to myself: "Did he really mean that? What has he triggered in me?" I can then work on it; if I am still angry by the time I have finished working on it, I can then say calmly: "Are you aware of what you have just said? It was very offensive." Or I can just keep my mouth shut, because I realise that my anger has nothing to do with you: It is my problem.
Nick Campion: Then our own internal thought processes seem to be crucial. If we do see astrology as a language, then could we talk about that conscious state of mind as being Geminian or Virgoan, perhaps? Is it analytical?
Liz Greene: I don't think that it involves analysis. Some people may think it out in concepts, but consciousness is something that can be watery, fiery, or earthy as well. It is a quality of awareness, which means that one is not identified with what one is experiencing. One stands outside it, not dissociated from it, but outside it enough to actually recognise it. You can recognise it on many levels; it doesn't have to be intellectual.
Nick Campion: So, when astrologers say in conversation, as they do so often: "Oh, I'm having a bad time because I'm having a Saturn transit," would you regard that as a wrong thing to say?
Liz Greene: Well, I say it too. But I know what I mean when I say it. To talk like that doesn't really communicate what is going on. It is shorthand. We don't have a bad time because of a transit. The transit is just a symbolic signature of what we are experiencing. It isn't causing it. I am not in the business of going around correcting everyone's speech, and I say it too: "What a rotten day! Saturn's on my whatever." It's shorthand.
Nick Campion: So, if a transit is a signature, then that reminds me of the astrological aphorism, one popular with Charles Carter: "The stars do not compel, they incline." Geoffrey Cornelius added: "They don't incline or compel, they signify." In that sense, are transits best seen as signposts rather than causes?
Liz Greene: I also think the planets signify. I don't believe they impel, compel, dispel, or "do" anything. They are simply signatures.
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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 and Howard Sasportas founded the Centre for Psychological Astrology together in 1983. Darby Costello is a lecturer at the centre.
 Richard Dawkins is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and one of the U.K.'s top writers of popular science books. He is also a militant atheist materialist and a strong public opponent of astrology, as well as of all paranormal claims and metaphysical and religious beliefs. His attack on astrology is available on the Astrological Association's Web site: www.astrologer.com/aanet
 Liz Greene, Relating: An Astrological Guide to Living with Others on a Small Planet, London: Coventure, 1977, p. 1.
 Ibid., p. 274.