by Gregory Ellison
In Part 1 of this series we looked at the underpinnings of evolutionary astrology the idea that the birth chart represents a map of the souls progressive development or evolution through a series of progressive incarnations on the physical plane, with the present lifetime being only one stage of an evolutionary process aimed ultimately at reunion with God. Seen from this perspective, the concepts of karma and destiny are seen not as external compulsions that override free will, but as expressions of a cosmic lesson plan that the soul has established in order to gain the experiences needed to grow spiritually in this lifetime.
As promised, the second and third articles will examine the specific astrological techniques of the two major schools of thought that have carried this evolutionary paradigm into modern astrology:
- The Evolutionary Astrology of Jeffrey Wolf Green (and later Steven Forrest), which builds on and extends the work of Dane Rudhyar
- The Esoteric Astrology popularized by theosophical writer Alice Baily and further developed by many others, most notably Alan Oken.
In drawing this distinction I do not mean to imply that these two directions are incompatible or at odds with one another. In fact, Dane Rudhyar was greatly influenced by the theosophical movement and considered himself a part of it, although his writings tended to express the Western astrological and philosophical tradition more than the Eastern tradition favored by the leading Theosophists of the day. Likewise, Jeffrey Wolf Greens groundbreaking work Pluto: The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul includes a foreword by Esoteric Astrologer Alan Oken that highly praises Jeffreys contributions to the astrological understanding of soul development.
Still, in terms of specific techniques the two approaches differ considerably. The Esoteric Astrology approach draws heavily on theosophical concepts like the Seven Rays and Twelve Creative Hierarchies, and uses a system of esoteric planetary rulers that are different from the familiar ruling planets of traditional astrology. (For example, the traditional ruling planet of Aries is Mars, while its esoteric ruler is said to be Mercury.) In contrast, the School of Evolutionary Astrology founded by Jeffrey Wolf Green and Steven Forrest stays within the familiar framework of traditional astrological symbolism while assigning unique evolutionary significance to the planet Pluto and the north and south Lunar nodes. As a result, it makes sense to examine the two approaches separately to avoid confusion.
Pluto and the Lunar nodes
The cornerstone of Jeffrey Wolf Greens Evolutionary Astrology approach is the understanding that the planet Pluto represents the human Soul, and that its position in the natal chart represents the individuals evolutionary intention for this lifetime. In this view, the planet Saturn represents the outer limits of the conscious individuality thus the planets Mercury through Saturn, all that were known to the ancients, represent all that can be known about the life of a person considered as an isolated individual within a single lifespan. The outer planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, discovered in relatively recent times, represent transcendental aspects of the individual those which begin to emerge as our consciousness expands beyond the limits of the observable physical plane. Uranus represents the unconscious inner reality of the individual, while Neptune represents the collective unconscious that is shared among all individuals, and Pluto represents the Soul itself that aspect of the individual that survives physical death and grows continuously by incarnating successively into different lifetimes to gain the experiences needed to evolve spiritually.
Of coequal importance in assessing the evolutionary life plan of the individual is the nodal axis the opposition between the North Node and the South Node in the horoscope. While the house and sign in which Pluto appears indicates the evolutionary intention of the soul for this lifetime, the North and South Nodes describe how the individual intends to actualize that intention, the specific modes of operation through which the souls intention will be pursued.
Before going any further, it may be worthwhile to consider the idea of evolutionary intention and what it means. In common with most spiritual traditions, evolutionary astrology holds that there are just two basic drives in the Universe the drive to separate from the original Unity (God) that is the Source of all, and the drive to return to the Source of creation. As unique individuals, we experience the interaction between these two basic drives or desires in many, many different ways, and the complexity of these interactions is what creates the drama of individual personality and the unique evolutionary journey of each soul. We exist as individuals because of our desire for separation the desire to experience the world as unique points of consciousness, different from all others. And because the range of possible experience is infinite, we gradually differentiate ourselves more and more, until we come to experience ourselves as truly separate, knowing our original unity, if at all, only as an abstract idea. And yet, with each individual separative desire we pursue, we also experience the loss of that original unity and the desire to find our way back home. But precisely because we have become so differentiated, our desire for return to union with the Source takes many different forms, and these different forms gives rise to yet more experiences, which in turn result in more perceptions of what we need. This complex of desires, experiences and needs determine the actions we will take, and the actions have reactions that create new perceptions of what we need, and on and on. This complicated stream of desires, actions and reactions leading to new desires, actions and reactions is what we call karma. Karma is not something imposed on us, but is rather the result of our own desires acting in response to our experiences. We do have free will, but our will is conditioned by our desires, and our desires are conditioned by our experiences. As the old saying goes, we can do what we please, but can we please what we please? In most cases we cannot our desires are experienced as a given, and result from a long history of previous choices and the experiences that resulted from those choices.
In the broadest sense, the evolutionary intention of every being is to return to union with the Source: involution is the process of separation, while evolution is the process of integration, of moving toward Oneness. But because our individual histories, experiences and desires are so varied, the experiences that each of us needs to gain in order to move closer to that goal are unique. Thus in any given lifetime, our evolutionary intention is to gain the specific experiences we most need to overcome the action-reaction desires and behaviors that keep us in a state of separation. Simply put the process of evolution is one of gradually eliminating the separative desires by understanding them.
The evolutionary astrology model
The practical idea behind evolutionary astrology is that by making us aware of our souls evolutionary intention in this lifetime (which may not be at all the same as our conscious goals and intentions), we are far better able to cooperate with that intention and help it to succeed thus consciously assisting our own spiritual evolution. The primary tools at our disposal for ferreting out this evolutionary intention from the birth chart include the position, by house and sign, of Pluto and the North Node, as well as the polarity point (180 degrees opposite) of Pluto. In terms of evolutionary intent, all the other factors of the chart can be gauged in terms of their relationship to Pluto and the nodal axis.
As a factor present in the chart at the moment of birth, Pluto represents the souls evolutionary intention arising from past-life experiences. That is, it shows not so much how the individual will develop in this lifetime, but rather what sHe brings into this life what might be considered the unfinished business of the past, and the souls primary intention is to handle these unresolved issues before moving on. The polarity point of Pluto, on the other hand, is an indication of the resolution being aimed for. Typically the evolutionary drives shown by Pluto dominate the chart until the first Saturn Return, which occurs around age 29, at which point the individual who has successfully integrated these karmic lessons can bring some degree of resolution to the conflicts implied, with the nature of this integration shown in Plutos polarity point. At this point, the individual is able to relate to this area of experience in a way that supports the evolutionary movement toward union rather than separation. (Of course it is also possible that the individual will not successfully fulfill this karmic necessity by the first Saturn return, in which case it will continue to dominate the life path until it is handled.)
Precisely how this evolutionary imperative will be enacted is shown in the house and sign of the nodal axis. Here the South Node indicates the strategies and mode of operation the individual brings into this lifetime, while the North Node indicates the evolutionary imperative of lessons to be learned in the future. As such, the operating modes shown by the South Node are those that seem most natural to the individual natural because they represent the very patterns used to deal with these issues in the past. Therefore they seem intuitively right, and the individual is comfortable in using them. The direction of evolutionary pressure, however, is toward the approaches shown by the North Node, and these will seem challenging and may in fact be strongly resisted. It is always more comfortable to deal with things in ways that are familiar and predictable, but it is precisely this challenge of letting go of the old and familiar to grow into new ways of understanding and acting that is the point of evolutionary growth.
To put these abstract notions into a concrete frame of reference, lets take a look at their practical application in the chart of Jeffrey Wolf Green himself. (To my knowledge Jeffrey has not listed his birth data in any of his books, but since he freely shared it in teaching discussions with students, Im sure he wont mind my showing it here.)
Here we can see that Pluto is near the top of the chart, in the ninth house, while the North Node is in the seventh house and the South Node in the first. Incidentally, its worth noting here that we look primarily to the house position rather than the sign, although the sign is obviously significant as well. Pluto is a slow-moving generational planet, so that everyone born within a long period anywhere from 12 to 32 years, depending on the point that Pluto is occupying in its elliptical orbit will have Pluto in the same sign. Its house position, however, moves through all 12 signs each day, making this a more individual expression.
Looking first to the position of Pluto, its ninth house placement indicates an evolutionary intention focused on religious and philosophical issues, and on teaching. We can see that Jeffrey came into this life with a strong desire to comprehend and communicate the deepest philosophical understandings, a drive to resolve the unanswered questions relating to the meaning and purpose of life. With the South Node in the first house of self, his natural mode of operation in satisfying this intention, from a past-life point of view, would be to maintain his own independence in order to seek objective answers to his cosmological questions, putting stock in no one but himself and his own experiences. He would not have joined study groups or followed any teachers, but would have insisted on remaining free of external influences in order to take any actions or follow any lines of thought he deemed necessary in his quest for Truth. (In fact, he once told a questioner that all the astrology that I have learned has come thru either meditational states, or thru dreams.)
However, as shown by the North Node in the seventh house of relationship, he would eventually become frustrated with this loner mode of seeking carried over from past-life experiences, and would increasingly seek to fulfill his evolutionary intention by taking the less comfortable and secure path of sharing and developing his ideas with a community (third house polarity point of Pluto) of seekers. He would also learn that to truly grow in understanding it was necessary to experience the life situations of others from their own points of view, rather than from some theoretically objective perspective. (Not long after his first Saturn return, Jeffrey began teaching evolutionary astrology to small study groups, gradually expanding to giving workshops and classes at astrological conferences and eventually founding his own school thus transforming himself from the lone seeker to the group teacher, and learning the value of relationship and community in the quest for Truth.)
Of course this is a vastly simplified analysis, but it shows the fundamental tenets of the evolutionary astrology model in chart analysis. In a thorough chart interpretation, an evolutionary astrologer would consider many other factors, but they would all relate to the Pluto/North Node relationship as the central determining factors of evolutionary intent.
To briefly outline the wider range of techniques used in this school of evolutionary astrology, here is a simplified check-list of steps that might be taken to analyze an individual chart:
- Start with the house placement of Pluto to determine the primary evolutionary intention carried over from past lives.
- Refine this understanding by looking at Plutos polarity point to determine the direction in which this carried-over intention will be developed.
- Look at the house position of the North Node to determine the specific actions or modes of operation to be used in fulfilling the evolutionary intention.
- Refine this general understanding by looking at the ruling planet of the house occupied by Pluto, its polarity point, and the North and South nodes. These influences facilitate the evolutionary intention and the modes of operation, supporting or challenging them and giving them the unique flavor of the ruling planets.
- Look at the aspects made by other planets in the chart to the nodal axis. These planets have played a major role in shaping the individuals karmic situation, and therefore help us to understand the past-life issues carried forward into the present lifetime.
- Look at the aspects made by other planets in the chart to Pluto. The areas of life-expression represented by planets strongly aspecting Pluto are subject to an intensified evolutionary metamorphosis in this lifetime. In addition the number of planets in strong aspect to Pluto indicates the intensity of the evolutionary drive in this lifetime.
- Look at the timing of Pluto transits to natal planets to determine when the areas of life-expression represented by those planets will undergo an impulse of evolutionary metamorphosis and transformation. Pluto transiting a natal planet will always result in a major transformation in the areas ruled by that planet, and this transformation can be a smooth transition if one is prepared for and cooperates with it or a cataclysmic upheaval if one attempts to resist change and cling to the status quo.
Even this list is a great simplification of the process of interpreting a chart in terms of evolutionary astrology, and merely outlines the bare bones of the crucial factors. Of great importance, and entirely beyond the scope of a single article such as this, is the subject of counseling. To provide a client with meaningful insights requires not only a deep familiarity with the applicable archetypes and symbolism of the chart, but also a great deal of empathy as well as a fair amount of detective work to ferret out the individuals current evolutionary condition. This is a facet of interpretation that cannot be revealed by the chart alone, but must be pieced together by looking at the individuals life experiences, attitudes and other subjective factors. The same astrological configuration can mean something very different, for example, to an individual who is in a mass consciousness evolutionary state (that is, the comparatively unquestioning follow the leader mentality expressed by a majority of individuals), compared to one who is in a highly individuated state and consciously working on personal evolution with deliberate intention. Developing the ability to interpret and counsel at this level takes a lot of work and study, but for those whose own evolutionary imperative moves them in this direction it is an immensely fascinating and rewarding study.
For more information about Evolutionary Astrology as developed by Jeffrey Wolf Green and Steven Forrest, I heartily recommend Volumes 1 and 2 of Pluto, the Evolutionary Journey of the Soul as the best starting point. Although Jeffrey himself is not currently avaiable for public communication due to illness, his School of Evolutionary Astrology is actively operating under the direction of his senior student Kim Marie. You can get more information about the school and other Evolutionary Astrology learning materials, as well as a worldwide directory of practicing Evolutionary Astrologers, at http://www.evolutionaryastrology.net.