Fate vs Free Will in Astrology: Part II, the modern debate

Catch up with Part I, a History, here. 

The question of whether humans are controlled by their fate or have a part to play in their own destiny is as old as time.  Much of our western philosophy comes from the ancient Greeks for whom the gods controlled human destinies despite great efforts of men and women to escape the fates accorded to them.  The Greek concept of hubris is applied to ordinary mortals who attempt to challenge the gods, and therefore their fate.

It’s no surprise, then, that the resurgence of Hellenistic (Greek) astrology brings with it the return of the idea of fate.  Astrologer Chris Brennan, a graduate from Kepler College, is the acclaimed expert in this field.  Chris and I did a podcast on this topic a while back  and he has just published a .

Chris writes:

An important point to make with respect to transits to a person’s natal chart is that they do not only represent internal character traits and psychological states that are being activated or experienced during a given transit, as some modern astrologers argue, but transits also correlate with concrete external events and circumstances that occur in the life of the native at fixed periods.

While we may have a certain amount of leverage as to how we react to the internal psychological states that we experience during a given transit, some of the external events that occur in tandem with the transits are frequently out of our control in a concrete sense. With these concrete external events we are still in a position of being able to slightly modify our perception or internal reaction to these events though. However, the argument could be made that even our ability to modify our reaction to external events may be fated or predetermined as well, since that too depends on our own internal dispositions and character traits at a given point in time, and all of this is contained in our natal chart. Of course, our internal reaction to events changes over time as we grow and develop, and this is largely what the study of transits is all about.

It should be noted that many of the astrologers pursuing the ancient traditions are younger than those of us who came up in the time of psychological astrology.  When we are young, we do tend to play out the dynamics of our chart in a much more unconscious way, and as we age we tend to have more control over our impulses and therefore have more control over our fate.

I have been listening to Chris’s podcast and have heard some of the arguments made by the younger astrologers against the idea of free will and the concept of personal transformation, and the idea that planetary transits bring about predictable concrete events is something that I have seen over and over again in my client practice to be false.  Two charts, virtually identical, will undergo the same planetary cycle with very different results as anyone who has read my profiles of criminals will note.

On the other hand, the idea that we have complete control over our lives and can alchemize the planetary cycles through sheer force of will, is also false.  The natal chart that we are born with is completely out of our control and a gift of fate.  The death of a spouse, the collapse of a company for which we work – these sorts of things are completely out of our control and gifts of fate.  We CAN argue, as Chris proposes, that our ability to react to these events from a more conscious perspective, is due to fate or as I would view it, our level of awareness in our evolutionary journey and perhaps this is true.

All of these arguments come down to personal beliefs, because we have no way to know.

These ideas have led to a great debate among professional astrologers which emerged into the public domain with this article on the Quartz website:

Today, modern psychology has cast astrology as a fantastical way that people of the past project the workings of their minds onto the environment around them. This interpretation leaves far too much wiggle room for astrology to simply sound like affirmations of what people want to hear about themselves and think about the world. Even worse, the nurturing approach psychologists take has polluted modern astrology with watered-down interpretations that seek to protect their clients. Even if an astrological configuration spells trouble, the modern astrologer will describe it as an “opportunity for growth,” as if they were a patronizing middle-manager. Where is the trust in that?

The author of this piece, Ida Benedetto, is apparently not an astrologer.  Her bio says “Ida C. Benedetto is an experience designer who sparks new insight through adventure and play. Her recent research outlines the design of transformative social experiences by comparing sex parties, funerals, and wilderness trips.”  I am not clear how this research qualifies her to expound on the validity of astrology.

While it’s true that many modern astrologers, myself included, lack a scholarly background in astrological studies and ancient methodologies that could be helpful in delineating natal charts with greater accuracy, it’s also true that not everything from the ancient world should be considered as gospel truth today.  Astrology no longer governs astronomy, and as a result we are learning about world that lie beyond our entire universe. Ancient Greece also came up with the practice of bloodletting which was used for much of the past 2,000 years to cure a wide variety of ailments, but you don’t hear too many physicians calling for its return.

The fact is, astrological configurations that spell trouble ARE opportunities for growth.  Presenting a situation of impending doom such as the ones described in this earlier article in a consultation in way which will serve only to frighten a client really serves no purpose.  Certainly it must be pointed out that a challenging period is coming, but then there are the situations such as the ones I talked about in this article in which the deaths of two people occurred under a planetary cycle (a New Moon in the progressed chart) which is not notable for death.  In fact I myself had this same planetary cycle myself last summer.  After these deaths I sought wisdom from my traditional astrology colleagues, but found none.

The fact is, we cannot predict the future – note the failure of astrologers to correctly predict the outcome of the 2016 election using traditional techniques.  We cannot look at an astrological signature in an individual chart and predict with any certainty what will happen under that transit.  As astrological practitioners our first duty is to provide our clients with the information that will be most helpful to them – to prepare them for challenges but not to terrify them by offering predictions that may never come true.

This is an interesting debate that is sure to continue!  You can .


By | 2018-01-19T11:10:06+00:00 January 16th, 2018|Astrology, Fate, Featured posts|0 Comments

Fate vs free will in astrology: Part I, a history involving Pluto

modern astrologyEven though Pluto was not discovered until 1930, its influence is evident in the evolution of modern astrology. The renaissance of astrology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries began with and the birth of the publication “Modern Astrology” in 1895 when Pluto was in the information gathering sign of Gemini.  Gemini is more concerned with the sharing of information than finding any kind of ultimate truth, and Alan Leo, who was a Theosophist, was primarily concerned with spreading the language of astrology to the masses via what we now call horoscope columns.

In England, astrology under Pluto in Gemini was a more academic affair but the “cookbook” texts of Charles Carter similarly helped to spread the language of astrology to more people than ever before. illustrate the way in which the idea of predetermination was beginning to fade:

As regards the higher part of man’s nature, his rational, moral, and aesthetic faculties, it is my firm belief that, if we chose to unfold them, no stellar influence can prevent us, though it may place obstacles and hindrances in our path. There are parts of our lives which the stars do seem to a large extent to dominate, and there is a yet greater part which they undoubtedly can affect, both favourably and adversely. It is for us to place our treasure where they cannot penetrate; no easy task, it is true, but probably the one most worth performing.

The discovery of Pluto in the 1930s coincided with the scientific breakthroughs required to release the atomic bomb which symbolizes Pluto’s destructive force which sometimes requires complete annihilation followed by a necessary rebuilding phase.  But it also coincided with the groundbreaking work of Freud and especially Carl Jung into the workings of the human psyche and the idea that if humans were able to better understand themselves, they could change the world around them and ultimately, their destiny.

The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves. ~Carl Jung, Aion, Christ: A Symbol of the Self, Pages 70-71, Para 126.


The work of Carl Jung helped to influence and inspire the development of modern astrology, with the bulk of Jung’s writings being published while Pluto was in Leo, the sign of individual expression and self-mastery, between 1937 and 1957.  Depth psychology asked the question: “What is the Self?” – a very Pluto in Leo idea.

Dane Rudhyar came of age under Pluto in Leo and was influenced by the quest for the ultimate expression of the Self and the idea that humans are not bound to a particular destiny but have the power to transcend one’s fate by utilizing the influence of the astrological chart rather than be a victim of it.  

The humanistic astrologer tries to present to his client’s consciousness a concrete, existential picture of what the chart signifies – the tensions to be resolved as well as the special abilities, the conflicts to be harmonized, the possibilities of disintegration to be avoided, and the opportunities that can be expected for individual self-fulfillment. In other worlds, he tries to assist the client in what Carl Jung calls “the integration of the personality” – how to be a whole person.

The transpersonal astrologer sees the astrological situation with which he is dealing in a different light – a sharp, penetrating light that illumines and guides a process of transformation. In that light, everything in the chart is to be used for transformation; and this may mainly be self-transformation, or in a more fated, because transpersonal way, the transformation of the individual’s socio-cultural environment in which his destiny is to act as a transforming agent. In such a light a basic conflict shown in the birth-chart need not be “harmonized” in terms of individual fulfillment; it may have instead to be used as a dynamic instrumentality able to produce definite effects in whatever has to be transformed. The goal is not personal happiness, but effectively focused action.

Rudhyar’s works were not popularized until the resurgence in interest in astrology of the 1960s and the conjunction of Uranus and Pluto in the conservative sign of Virgo. During that period (between 1956 and 1972) the traditional societal rules were broken wide open, and new ways of living were embraced. Rudhyar did more than anyone else to popularize astrology and opened the doors to other modern astrologers with which we are now quite familiar: Stephen Arroyo, Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas, etc. The emphasis on psychological astrology came to a head while Pluto was in the deep thinking sign of Scorpio (1983-1995) and was followed by an interest in astrological history under with Pluto in Sagittarius, the sign that inspires a search for greater knowledge (1995-2008).

Project Hindsight was dedicated to studying and translating the astrological works of the ancient Greeks who originated what we now call western astrology.  Thanks to Kepler College which was founded in 2000, serious astrology students were able to study these ancient texts and techniques and in 2008 when Pluto moved into traditional Capricorn, the debate over the legitimacy of modern astrology (including psychological astrology, transpersonal astrology, evolutionary astrology and what I call transformational astrology) began.

Part II will explore this debate further and give me an opportunity to stake out a position in the argument.




By | 2018-01-16T08:43:01+00:00 January 11th, 2018|Astrology, Fate|2 Comments

Fate and the progressed chart

fate or free willThe question of fate vs. free will is a thorny debate among astrologers.  Traditional astrologers, such as those who practice Hellenistic, Vedic or Medieval astrologers, tend to believe more firmly in the concept that the unfolding of our lives occurs in a predestined pattern and that we as humans have very little choice in the process.

It’s clear when you learn to read the astrological symbols that fate and destiny are tightly interwoven.  We are born with certain planets in certain placements which enables someone like me to be able to identify psychological patterns of a perfect stranger across a phone line with no previous information, just from looking at the birthchart.  And yet, you can take two different people born at the same moment in the same location, with identical charts, and while there will be similarities in the underlying dynamics of the chart their choices and outcomes will be completely different.

AK asked in the comments:

I have a question about your series on fate and free will. I always wondered why progressed chart should show how we “evolve”, if we have the free will to change our destiny. In other words, if we are born with certain challenges, lessons to be learnt (during transits to our natal planets), but at the same time have the ability to choose our destiny, we can evolve very differently than what progressed chart might show us. Progressing our natal planets somewhat assumes we are born with a certain fate…..

I thought this was an important question that deserves its own posts.  I’ve written on this topic before, but it’s an ongoing question that never gets old.

The progressed chart is the natal chart “progressed” forward through time, revealing unfolding patterns in the psyche that may or may not be reflected in the outer events.  Some astrologers say that planetary transits (which occur when a planet in the sky makes contact with a planet in our chart) stimulate events and progressed movements of the chart stimulate inner change, but I haven’t really seen that to be strictly true in any kind of predictable fashion.  Carl Jung wrote that “‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

When we are young we react against our inner impulses, fulfilling the problems of the birthchart.  Difficult relationships, insecurities, inability to assert ourselves, lack of self-confidence, failure to hold down a job – these are all potential problems of certain chart patterns.  As we grow older and hopefully wiser, if we become more self aware we start to work with those patterns and learn more about where they originate and how they can be transformed.  If we don’t go through this self-reflective process we are less likely to be able to effect change and alter our destiny.

The path of the progressed chart is already set when an individual is born because the natal chart is advanced through time, but so are the movements of planetary transits.   Once the natal chart is established we can predict every planetary cycle from birth into the future.  Some events that occur in our life are likely the result of fate, but the choices we make out of those events are what creates our destiny.  Terrible occurrences such as rape and abuse can later prove to be the seed of personal transformation.  A death of a spouse can be followed by a life of greater self-awareness.  Very rarely is there a disastrous event that is not followed by some sort of rebirth, as the archetype of Pluto reveals.

My sister recently had a big lineup of planets including her Moon, Mars and Venus aligning with Pluto in her progressed chart.  It was clear that something big was going to happen though it would have been impossible to predict exactly what.  This kind of dynamic could indicate a complete transformation of a marriage through shamanic therapy just as easily as divorce or death.  However, as it turned out her husband did become ill and died – an event which has already transformed her life on many levels. It’s hard to imagine that anything she did would have changed the fact of her husband’s death; the thing she has control over is whether she will allow herself to be transformed in the fire of the destruction of her old life and enable herself towards greater empowerment and healing.  (The good news:  she IS.)

I suppose none of us will ever know how much of what happens in our lives is fate and how much free will.  But my personal belief is that we have incarnated to face these challenges and learn and grow from them, and if every moment was predestined there would hardly be a point to incarnating at all.

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By | 2013-12-14T17:52:16+00:00 December 14th, 2013|Fate, Favorite posts|4 Comments

If you could predict death: 2013 edition

predict death

I do a fair amount of what I call “repair readings” – readings for people who have been told things by other astrologers that are upsetting and sometimes ridiculous.  Like the time a client was told that at a certain time she would meet someone and it would be the only opportunity she would ever have to find her soulmate. Or when an astrology told a client that her daughter would die on a certain date.

In 2008 I wrote a post “If you could predict death, would you?”  The subject has come up again because of a discussion on a Facebook group in which I participate and since 2008 there is more information available on the subject out on the web.

The whole idea of predicting death is based on the idea that the time of death is fated – that it is set in stone and can’t be changed.  This concept in itself is a huge point of argument among astrologers.  I personally believe that our family of origin, our astrological chart, and the timing of the planetary cycles that affect us are all fated, but that at an early age we begin to make choices that affect the rest of our lives.

When I was with my mother in the last months of her life I witnessed something else that was pretty amazing – when she was near the moment of death she suddenly decided that she wanted to go to the hospital.  She was quite insistent about it and the ambulance was called, and she lived another three months.  The hospice nurse told me that this is quite common – they speak about it as a “surge of energy” that lasts for a few days or a few weeks.  My mother had a very strong will, and she was determined not to die.  And she didn’t, until she was able to return home.  At that point she died within 36 hours.  I believe that she was then able to relax and let go.

My point is that it appeared to me that she had some choice as to the moment of death.  You hear stories about people who remain alive waiting for family members to arrive.  Or until after Christmas.  All of these events point away from the idea that the moment of death is fated.

Sometimes there are events that DO appear to be fated.  An acquaintance of mine was walking with a friend at 6:30 in the morning last week and was hit by a drunk driver and killed.  Certainly that experience had nothing to do with choice.  I did examine her chart and there were clearly stressful aspects on that day but nothing that would lead me to suggest death.

Modern astrology has no techniques for predicting death and indeed, the idea of predicting death goes against everything most modern astrologers believe in which is empowerment of the client.  Medieval and Hellenistic astrology as well as Vedic, all of which are more based in the idea of fate, do possess techniques for predicting death.  One well known astrologer, Richard Houck, wrote an entire book about it called the “Astrology of Death” – however, he was unable to accurately predict his own.  Using his own techniques he arrived at a date of 2031 for his demise – in fact he died of cancer in 2001.

Which brings me to the point – even if you could predict death, why would you?  How is that helpful?  Saturn in his role of Kronos the time keeper has already told us that our lives are fleeting – that time is passing.  We already know that death is coming – we do not need to know when that moment will arrive.  At every moment we have the opportunity to make choices to enhance our lives and those of our loved ones and our communities, and in my mind that is the most important thing that astrology can do for us.


By | 2018-01-15T17:31:21+00:00 July 19th, 2013|Death, Fate|6 Comments

Catastrophe and transformation

catastrophe Tower TarotI was browsing around for something when I came across a of the word “catastrophe”:

catastrophe (plural catastrophes)
1. Any large and disastrous event of great significance.
2. (insurance) A disaster beyond expectations
3. (narratology) The dramatic event that initiates the resolution of the plot in a tragedy.
4. (mathematics) A type of bifurcation, where a system shifts between two stable states.

As an astrologer, I am always curious about catastrophes in a person’s life, because there is nearly always something of great significance astrologically that provides clues to the nature of this apparent disaster.  I believe that when we are ignoring our lives or unable to face certain truths, the Universe will present us with a catastrophe to get our attention and create the change and transformation that is required.

In order to get there, though, we have to completely suspend our usual ideas of what is good and bad, life and death.  A horrible childhood event can serve as the tool to foster a lifetime of introspection and self-discovery.  A terrible accident can create a lifetime of pain, but also shock us into realizing that a change in our life is needed.  A natural disaster can wipe away a family, but allow us to put our grief to work in helping others.  A terminal illness will end a life, but can bring great richness and transformation to an entire family as well as the patient.

All of these events could be considered catastrophes in definition #1 described above: “a large and disastrous event of great significance.”  And certainly a disaster beyond expectations (#2), because most of us don’t expect to encounter these disasters – they sneak up on us and shock us into an altered state.

#3 is one of the most interesting, and it comes to us from the elements of Greek drama: The dramatic event that initiates the resolution of the plot.  Many of us become stuck in patterns and situations that we know are limiting us but we stay there out of fear or inertia.  A catastrophe can indeed be the dramatic event that initiates a type of resolution.

theory in mathematics is a little more obtuse but it still has an interesting connection to this discussion: “Small changes in certain parameters of a nonlinear system can cause equilibria to appear or disappear, or to change from attracting to repelling and vice versa, leading to large and sudden changes of the behaviour of the system.”  Here again we see the idea that a catastrophe plants the seeds of change.

The Tower card in the Tarot is a significator of this kind of catastrophe.  The Tower card is represented by the planet Pluto which presides over death and rebirth – destruction and regeneration.  In this card we see the Tower of the material world, representing all that we have accomplished, but which rests precariously on a craggy mountain which represents a supremely difficult spiritual challenge.  In order to accomplish the spiritual work, the Tower of materialism must fall.

The crown is falling from the Tower, showing that we must let go of our arrogance and righteousness during this process.  A bolt of lightning (Uranus – sudden and shocking experience) comes out of the blue to destroy all that we have built. In order to escape the destruction, a change of perspective (the people falling upside down from the Tower) is required.

To me, the biggest challenge in life is to face the reality of its tenuousness without fear and with trust in the Universal laws of consciousness and fate.  Astrology helps with this, because it can provide a context within which these supposedly meaningless events occur and offers a framework for understanding.

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By | 2013-04-26T07:11:08+00:00 April 26th, 2013|Fate, Favorite posts, Inspiration|8 Comments