Back in the fifties, when I was a little boy, I once put a quarter in a vending machine inscribed with paintings of various improbable creatures. Out came a packet containing a description of the traits associated with my sun sign, Capricorn. In essence, the message was that I was shy and uptight, but that while no one would ever be very excited about me, I could console myself with the knowledge that I was practical and industrious and would probably get rich.
Thinking back, I suppose it retarded my development by six months.
Shy and uptight. No argument there. The machine was right on target. Shyness was a painful, inescapable part of my daily reality. But the mechanical astrologer went further. It told me that since I was born on the sixth day of January, I was doomed to be shy and uptight for the rest of my life. The word doomed was not used, but I sure read it between the lines.
How many people have been misled in the same way? Somewhere astrology got off the track. In its healthy form it is one of humanity's most precious allies, the oldest form of psychotherapy. Gradually, though, the aim of helping people has been supplanted by the desire to amaze them.
And astrology can do that. Given the date, time, and place of a person's birth, anyone who has done a little homework can describe with fair precision his or her general nature. There will be errors. But only the most closed-minded person would deny the fundamental validity of the portrait.
Who is helped by such a description? Certainly not the person in question. Presumably, he is already acquainted with himself. The best that can come out of such an interaction is that the client is entertained, perhaps intrigued, and the astrologer's ego gets a boost. The worst that can happen is that some unpleasant and self-defeating aspect of the person's character is further cemented in place. "Of course I am indecisive---I'm a Libra."
Astrology can do so much more.
A birthchart is a rich, living statement, full of insights, guidelines, and warnings. It describes not a static fate but a flowing life pattern, full of options and risks. An encounter with an effective astrology should leave a person not only entertained but inspired to live more fully and confidently, with a deeper sense of purpose and a keener alertness regarding the comforting lies we all love so well.
Many years have passed since I put my quarter in the vending machine and learned all about Capricorn. For most of those years I have been studying astrology, letting it teach me. Books were my guides at first. But the more I studied people, the more I realized that the books were far more rigid than the people were. I was changing. Capricorn was not. Something was wrong. So I stopped reading and started watching.
Slowly it dawned on me: astrological forces present us not with answers but with questions. The answers we give are our own. Those astrologers who for centuries have been trying to determine our behavior from our birthcharts have been barking up the wrong tree. Astrology supplies the terrain. How we navigate it is our own business.
Almost every day I sit down with a stranger and his birthchart. Together they rarely fail to teach me something new. Some are psychiatrists. Some are mill workers. A couple were prostitutes. I have learned, through astrology, to see the human common denominators beneath the masks of circumstance. I have learned that the most universal of those common denominators is the desire for "my life to be different." And I have learned to help people grow, to answer their own questions in happier ways.
Growth. That is the key. That is what separates true astrology from simple fortune-telling. A Libran can learn to make decisions. Capricorn can learn to relax. Transformations like that are the goal of any real astrologer. To the fortune-teller, they are only embarrassments, unwelcome evidence of the cracks in his system.
A new astrology? Perhaps. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. I honor those men and women who have helped create the tradition within which I practice. But that tradition has become clogged and stiff, set in its ways. We are ready now to reach a little further, to redefine the symbols yet again, to see them more clearly, more in harmony with the ebb and flow of human experience.
Anyone reading this book can learn to use astrology. Real skill comes with experience, but the aura of "occult power" that has always surrounded the art is a smokescreen. Astrology is technical, but it is the technology of life. Even someone who never heard of Capricorn until a few moments ago has already been studying these symbols for years. They are part of the human spirit.
All we are doing is learning a new language. The words may be unfamiliar. But the meaning behind them is as universal as breathing.
Then why bother with it? Only because astrological knowledge, coupled with an accurate birthchart, can boost our sensitivity to a remarkable degree. It is life's Rosetta stone. It breaks the code. The chaos, the pain, and the seeming randomness of our lives coalesce before our eyes into an orderly system. And once we grasp that system, we spend a lot less time swimming against the tide.
Learn astrology for yourself and you will make better decisions. Share it gracefully, without preaching, and you will make a better friend, able to push your own fog out of the way long enough to help people you love see through theirs. Whether you keep it or share it, I promise you an absorbing journey into that shadowy borderland, that place where cosmos and consciousness touch: the human psyche.
Steven Forrest. Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
From the forward to The Inner Sky by Steven Forrest. ACS Publications. 1988.