August 2003 A Conscious Evolution Newsletter
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Volume 2, Number 8

Opinions presented in Metamorphosis are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others associated with the newsletter.

A New Approach To Chart Interpretation

by Rusty Hamilton

Part 1: Introduction and the Elements

Over the past year I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. One project I started to keep myself busy was an attempt to finally learn to analyze any given astrological chart as a whole. I already knew the usual interpretations of the signs, houses, planets and aspects, but putting all those factors together to see the big picture was something else. As I began this project, I realized that I would need to start from “square one” and completely redesign my approach to astrology.

My astrology education began in 1999 with books such as March and McEvers’ The Only Way to Learn Astrology series, Trish MacGregor’s The Everything Astrology Book, and Stephen Arroyo’s Chart Interpretation Handbook. These books are all great starting points for the beginning astrology student, but even the March and McEvers books, usually touted as comprehensive guides to astrology, have something “missing” about them.

All these books teach chart interpretation through an approach sometimes disparagingly termed “cookbook astrology”; they give descriptions of the planets in each sign and house and through each aspect. I certainly learned a lot about myself by looking up the various facets of my chart in these books, and they all definitely provide worthwhile information for the beginning student, but they produce a definite lack of cohesiveness in terms of understanding the whole chart.

Astrology skeptics often use the inaccuracy of simplistic Sun-sign astrology to “disprove” astrology in general. All Geminis are not nonstop talkers, some Virgos aren’t the slightest bit neat (I’m one of these!) - and some Pisceans, such as B.F. Skinner, are so methodical and precise as to express the exact opposite of their supposedly “mystical and vague” Sun sign. Some astrology skeptics who are a bit more educated in the art also use the vast differences between people with planets in the same sign as “proof” that astrology doesn’t work. None of their claims are proof in themselves that astrology does or does not work. What their statements do mean, however, is that the individual elements of a chart can never stand alone; all facets of a chart must be examined simultaneously and as a whole to produce an accurate interpretation.

This is where my efforts come in. Frustrated by my inability to see a “whole” emerging from the myriad details of even a single stand-alone natal chart, I developed a cohesive system to reorganize the many parts of a chart into a more systematic, structured format. If you’re one of the many out there who seem to be blessed with an ability to synthesize a complete picture of a chart on your own, congratulations - you won’t need my system. If, on the other hand, you find yourself confused by apparently contradicting details in a chart or are just unsure of how it all fits together, you may find this approach interesting and useful.

Members of the Conscious Evolution forums know me for my tendency to offer unnecessary cautions and warnings, and I'm not going to disappoint them by deviating from my norm. First, I must warn you that when I mentioned I had been forced to renew my astrology knowledge from the ground up, I wasn’t kidding. There may be information in this series that conflicts with what you have read or been taught, and there will definitely be techniques and methods you have never seen before. The latter issue is one reason I chose to release my information to the public, as I want to test some of my new techniques to see how many others find that they actually work.

Please try to keep an open mind when you encounter ideas that seem to be at odds with the conventional ideas found in popular astrology books. If the system does not work for everyone I want to make sure its errors are inherent to the system and not simply complaints that it doesn’t jibe with current astrological dogma.

Next, I’d like to caution that if you are looking for an astrology lesson that deals primarily in “real-world” meanings, this is not it. In this system I am looking for more abstract, generalized patterns that can then be applied as appropriate to the real-world situations of the individual whose chart is being interpreted.

My second turn-off with cookbook astrology is that the “practical” interpretations these books give often have little or no meaning in terms of certain charts. Again, this may be another reason for the bad name astrology tends to get, as people read these books and find that a particular chart configuration they have does not apply to them. I had a friend once with Libra rising, which, according to many standard interpretations, should make her rather neat and tidy or at least concerned with outward appearances; her cat-urine-soaked apartment definitely belied the standard reading! The Ascendant, like any other element of a chart, cannot be interpreted apart from the other factors.

No matter what kind of research is done on a particular chart configuration, someone will always break the mold due to the free will inherent in us all. I do not believe astrology can be used to predict precise behavior with an acceptable degree of accuracy. What I hope my research and methods will show, however, is that astrology can indeed predict the basic behavior patterns contained within a moment in time.

Skeptics will always challenge astrology despite any research by myself or others, because it does not arise from any physically observable connection between the planets and human behavior. The skeptic’s viewpoint often comes from a belief that until something is proven observable, it cannot really exist. Although Einstein’s theories have yet to be disproven mathematically, many still will not totally believe them until they can be reproduced in a lab. I am actually very much a skeptic myself, but I have seen far too many correspondences between people and their charts over far too long a time to still believe it’s all “just coincidence,” despite the fact that I don’t know exactly where the correspondences are coming from or how they arise.

An Elemental Approach
Illustrated Through Qabala Concepts

Four elements (Fire, Earth, Air, and Water) and three qualities (Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable) form the real basis of astrology. Many, if not most, astrology books and lessons, in their hurry to teach you what the signs and houses mean, treat these facets as secondary to the positions of the planets. In my opinion, this is a big mistake, as the true meanings of the zodiacal signs, as well as the aspects, are derived from the varying combinations of the elements and qualities. Jumping right into a description of the signs without first explaining how the signs are formed is akin in my eyes to arbitrarily assigning qualities to the signs based on hearsay. To a Virgo, at least, this is a real “no-no”!

Thus, before we even get near the signs, we’re going to have to review what the elements and qualities mean. This can be very difficult for beginning astrology students due to the high level of abstraction involved. We’re not dealing with real-world issues here, we’re talking about principles even more abstract than the signs and planets themselves. The level of difficulty involved in this may well be why most astrology books avoid this topic aside from a few cursory paragraphs, if that.

Elements and qualities seem abstract at first glance because they deal only with potential, not with any action or result. If you know any physics or even basic science, think of the elements and qualities as being potential energy, the energy that a stationary object is capable of, as opposed to the kinetic energy of a moving object. One extremely important theme exemplified here is that the study of astrology is in reality the study of the many steps a potential (in general) must take in order to express itself physically in the material world. Plato’s theory of pure Form, which descends into matter through a series of progressive condensations, is a good analogy here, as are the four levels or “Worlds” of the Qabalah (Archetypal, Creative, Formative, and Material). This theme of form descending into matter will be repeatedly discussed throughout this series.

The four Worlds of the Qabalah (Kabbalah) are a good starting point for our discussion of the elements, since each World can correspond to an element. Of course, you do not have to believe in the mystical Judaism of Qabalah as a religion; this is merely a mental exercise using some Qabalah concepts.

The first and most powerful World of the Qabalah is Atziluth, the Archetypal World. This theoretical world is where the true forms of everything reside. To better explain this concept, try to remember the last time you had a really great idea for something. How did you bring this idea into reality? You developed a clear picture of it in your mind, invested a lot of time and effort into it, and then took the necessary steps to physically produce it.

But before you did all this, you had an inspiration, a sudden “spark” of thought emerging within you; you knew what you wanted to do, even if you didn’t know how you would do it or even what it would look like. In essence, when you had your idea you created a sort of perfect mental blueprint of how it should be. This blueprint is what is known as an archetype, a totally pure ideal or Form. Archetypes, not surprisingly, exist only in the Archetypal World due to their inherent perfection, which is impossible in the imperfect material world we live in. The Archetypal World corresponds to the element of Fire in astrology.

Due to the purity and perfection of archetypes, as well as the fact that the first stage of having an idea is an intangible something beyond our thoughts or even feelings, archetypes, and thus the element of Fire, have a spiritual connotation. The element of Fire represents energy, desire, and inspiration - in potential, of course. Since elements are potentials themselves, Fire would then be a potential of potential; it is pure energy and motion. This concept is extremely abstract so do not be surprised if it takes time to wrap your mind around it.

The next world is Briah, the Creative World, which can be linked to the second step of having an idea: forming a clear picture of it in your mind. The keyword here is “mind,” as the Creative World has to do with all things mental. If you’re going to make or do anything, you first have to know what it is and how to do it. How do you acquire this information? One way is through communication with others. By interacting with other people we learn the basic frameworks through which our ideas (Fire) can be expressed. The frameworks themselves are not part of the Creative World; the process of finding and discovering these frameworks is.

The Creative World, Briah, is linked to the element of Air in astrology. To further illustrate the meaning of this element, consider again the “idea” process. If Fire represents your first burst of creative energy toward a goal, Air would represent the research or learning you would have to do to achieve that goal. You might have to take a course, in which you will have to both receive and test information in order to go on to the next phase of your goal.

Or maybe your goal doesn’t end in the creation of a physical product; maybe you saw someone at a party and suddenly fell in love. How are you going to get from your archetypal ideal of how a relationship with that person would be to an actual relationship? You would have to do quite a bit of communicating, both verbal and non-verbal. You might talk to friends to find out if the person is even interested in you. You might watch from a distance to get a clearer picture of who this heart-throb is. And at some point you will have to talk to him or her in order to determine whether or not you are the slightest bit compatible. Only then, assuming everything goes according to plan, can you begin forming a relationship.

In summation, Air represents not just communication but all forms of information. If Fire is pure energy, Air is pure information or data. It shouldn’t be hard to see, then, that Air is also often linked with the mental side of the human psyche, as opposed to Fire being associated with the human spirit. In the tarot, Air is represented by the suit of Swords, a suit with a negative connotation in many tarot decks. This perception may have arisen for two reasons. First, the element of Air represents the first descent of a pure ideal (Fire) into matter; it is a step down in terms of purity and perfection. The second and more important reason has to do with the fact that a large part of the processes involved with Air are of a divisive, “either/or” sort that can be either really good or really bad.

The binary logic integral to computers is an excellent example of this division; most computers are incapable of dealing with abstract, “both/and” concepts. Unfortunately, many people in our world tend to be stuck on this level as well and also have trouble seeing both sides of a situation. These people are not necessarily trapped on the Air level, they are actually over-expressing Aquarius, which we will get to at a later date. But there is much more to Air than “if this, then that”-type logic testing; it deals with information as a whole.

Having been inflamed with the idea of falling in love and having created the proper atmosphere through airy communication, you would now hope to begin forming a relationship with the person you had your eye on. As it happens, the next World down is Yetzirah, the Formative World. All our dreams and hopes and feelings are contained here, as the Formative World is the world of imagination and emotion. You probably already know that it can be difficult if not impossible to complete a task, no matter how educated you are on the subject, if your “heart isn’t in it.”

In the figurative “assembly line” of the four Worlds, after coming up with the idea itself (Fire), then formulating the initial, ideal schematic for it (Air), the next step is to create its basic framework or skeleton. As most of us are aware, relationships based on purely material or intellectual matters usually do not stand the test of time; when unpleasantness starts to happen to one or both individuals, the relationship crumbles because neither wants to do the work involved. This is because relationships of this type lack the emotional “backbone” to stand up to the unfortunate happenings of this world. The processes involved with the Formative World create the emotional and/or imaginative support that the Fire and Air processes need in order to take form in the physical world.

As the Formative World represents the last step before the descent of inspiration, thought, and emotion into reality, it is also the most accessible and familiar level to most people. Unfortunately, because of this accessibility, for every overly logical, “heartless” person, there seem to be ten overly emotional individuals running about, ruled by undisciplined feelings and bouncing between one emotion and the next. The fluidity of the emotions involved in the Formative World is perhaps why this World is associated with the element of Water.

And, of course, we mustn’t forget the last World, Assiah - the Material World, associated with the element of Earth. This is the realm of physical existence we wake up in every day, and it represents the culmination of the other three processes. Here, whatever was brought down through the other three levels is imbued with a physical reality of some sort.

I chose the Qabalistic four Worlds metaphor to illustrate the way the elements, representing forces of potential, condense themselves repeatedly until an actual form is produced. However, the order described above (Fire, Air, Water, Earth) is more the order of a “finished” or complete world, one that we have not quite achieved yet. In our world, nothing is finished; everything is evolving continuously. The twelve signs of the zodiac represent this process of constant evolution, and the elements cycle through the zodiac signs in the following order: Fire, Earth, Air, Water.

In the zodiac, each of the Qabala’s two “higher” elements (Fire and Air) is followed by one of the two lower elements, Earth and Water, both of which are considered to be less “pure” by the Qabalists due to their distance from the absolute potential of Fire. But this arrangement makes sense when you consider our world and the process of evolution itself. Fire and Air may well be more “perfect” than the messier and often downright “dirty” elements of Earth and Water, but we live in an imperfect world. An excess of Air in a chart, especially the Air of Aquarius, can produce a rigid, black-and-white way of viewing the world. While the universe does tend to operate, on a large scale, through either/or processes (the Sun either has enough fuel to continue its fusion reactions or it does not, the chair I’m sitting on is either there or it is not, etc.), human and even many animal processes do not operate exclusively on either/or principles.

Because of the dangers of excesses of Fire and Air, each of these is followed by a more “imperfect” element. This way, if Fire or Air get a bad case of a swollen ego and become too rigidly idealistic for reality, Earth and Water will come along shortly thereafter and make short work of whatever won’t compute in the physical world. Inversely, if Earth and Water get too stagnated or blindly uninspired, Fire and Air will arrive afterward to build a shining new vision on top of the mud of Earth and Water.

The two lower elements are traditionally referred to as “negative,” while Fire and Air, the two higher ones, are called “positive.” Those classifications are peripheral to the interpretative approach laid out in this series, but they are often mentioned in other materials.

When I began trying to truly understand astrology, I found it incredibly frustrating to find a starting point to work from. Now I see this is because, as the cycle of elements through the zodiac suggests, nothing really “starts” anywhere, whether we’re talking about astrology or the world itself. It’s all one big circle of creation and destruction, death and rebirth, growth and decay, day and night. We may say that Aries is the beginning of the zodiac, but Aries only creates/rejuvenates what Pisces, its preceding sign, has distilled and processed.

That’s all for now. In the next article, we’ll consider the qualities (otherwise known as directions), and we might even get to a description of the signs!