Psychological Astrology: A Therapeutic Tool on our Journey of Individuation

by Margaret Gray

The purpose of this article is to describe the role of Psychological Astrology as a useful therapeutic tool to enhance psychological self awareness.

“Psychological astrology has, like the old Roman god Janus, a double face.  It can provide a surgical scalpel which cuts through to the underlying motives, complexes and family inheritance which lie behind the manifest problems and difficulties which the individual faces; and it can also provide a lens through which can be viewed the teleology and purpose of our conflicts in context of the overall meaning of the individual’s journey.” (Greene and Sasportas, 1987)

As thinking, soulful beings our quest is not merely to seek happiness, but rather one of finding clarity, understanding, and meaning. Throughout our lives and in particular when we reach the powerful life junctures of adolescence, late 20’s, early 40’s and early 60’s we are prone to feel an internal pressure to seek answers to the crucial underlying questions – why am I here, what gives my life meaning, what is my purpose, am I fulfilling it and if not how can I do so?

Self-understanding with a view to individuation lies at the centre of most western psychologies and psychotherapies. The Jungian analyst James Hollis, describes how individuation, which was one of Carl Jung’s biggest contributions to psychology, “is misunderstood as egotism or self-absorption.  Rather, individuation is the humbling task to serve what our deepest nature asks of us — and of becoming, as nearly as one can manage, the being that was set in motion by the gods”. (Hollis, 2000). Individuation involves attempting to become more fully ourselves, who we are at our core, rather than who we think we need to be or are told we have to be. We know instinctively that this is a life long journey, which is neither easy nor painless and involves finding, re-owning and living the parts of ourselves that we never met as well as the parts that got repressed, distorted, or sacrificed along the way. It is often easier to “walk in shoes too small”. (Hollis, 2003). Like the bird in the cage that refuses to leave its familiar constricting space however limiting it may feel, we too can find the possibility of living our truth too frightening to even contemplate. As Nelson Mandela, (1994) said in his inaugural speech  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”.

So how can Psychological Astrology help us in our journey of self-understanding and individuation?

To answer this let us first place Psychological astrology within the context of the history of western astrology. The earliest known records of Western Astrology come from the Mesopotamian empires of Babylon and Assyria in circa 1700 BC. During this time priests/healers worked also as astrologers, interpreting events for their country based on the patterns in the heavens. Interpreting natal Horoscopes for individuals rather than nations developed later in history. Throughout the ages many of the great philosophers, mathematicians and physicians including Hippocrates, Aristotle, Plato and Ptolemy studied astrology as well as astronomy. In the middle ages a rift started between the church and astrology, although many of the popes continued to seek advice from astrologers who practiced predictive work. In the 17th century astronomy and the sciences finally parted ways with astrology leaving a split that has never healed.

Today there are many types of astrology practiced in the Eastern and Western world all of which are symbolic tools rather than an astronomically accurate science. Most forms of astrology have retained their divinatory origins. Psychological astrology took a different route in that its goal is to foster depth awareness and understanding of the Psyche rather than predict events. Although it is based to a large degree on the psychology of Carl Jung, astrologers and analysts such as Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas have developed a unique theoretical base for what is now known as Psychological Astrology. So although the goals and focus are similar to Jungian psychology the tools available to work with people are different.

So what is Psychological Astrology?

The natal chart, which is based on the time date and place of birth of an individual, is a symbolic visual map in time and space of the planets in the heavens at the time of birth. In exploring the mythological and psychological meaning that is associated with the planets and the relationship between these entities, a unique main story, which was seeded at the moment of birth, appears in each chart. This unfolds throughout an individuals lifetime. As with any story there is a main theme running throughout it as well as strengths and resources together with conflicts and challenges. The main theme is commonly described as our ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’. Joseph Campbell the Mythologean, describes it as the ‘Heroes Journey’. (Campbell, 1972). Astrologically it is our Solar Journey.  In exploring our innate conflicts and complexes which form obstacles on this journey, strands open up which go back in history to the personal family and ancestry as well as to the collective unconscious beyond.  The skilled psychological astrologer can describe the characters and the stories as they interweave in the chart but it is the client alone who knows the manner in which these stories have been lived out or not.  This will depend on the choices made by the individual as well as the circumstances encountered.

In the words of Greene and Sasportas (1988):

“The astrological chart — is not only a portrait of those parts of us which we are willing to acknowledge or are happy for the world to see.  It tells the whole story, revealing all the characters, and exposing aspects of our natures we may try to conceal not only from others, but from ourselves as well.  Nor do astrological symbols moralise or pass judgement on what is good or bad. Each astrological symbol contains a spectrum of positive and negative qualities and a teleology or inherent meaning.

We can to some degree educate and manage or at the very least provide constructive outlets for what we are conscious of in ourselves.  But if we are unconscious of something it will sooner or later find a way to dominate and control us. What we are unconscious of has a way of not only erupting from within, but of materialising from without.”

Like the god Hermes, the astrologer needs to take on a variety of roles with different clients.  For some people the astrologer is the Psycho-pomp guiding the client into the underworld of the personal and collective unconscious. At other times s/he is Hermes the translator of symbols.  At other times s/he will be the god of travellers standing at the crossroads with clients when they are going through life transitions. As with psychotherapy, the psychological astrologer can only accompany clients as far as s/he has gone themselves on their own journey and hence a crucial part of training at the centre for Psychological astrology is depth psychotherapy for most of the training period. For many of us depth psychotherapy and supervision is an integral ongoing part of our lives.

What does the work entail?

With Individuals

As with psychotherapy, clients tend to mostly appear at the astrologers doorstep at times of change, confusion and pain.  Being human, we are more likely to seek help when the discomfort of the known is greater than the fear of the unknown. These times as if by synchronicity, are likely to coincide with powerful transits in the chart of the individual and provide openings to the portals of the soul. We are summoned by the gods to become aware of an aspect of our Psyche with a view to becoming more conscious of it. If the invite is refused it will come again in the next portion of the planets cycle as well as by transits of other planets to the same point in the chart.  As all therapists know, unconscious material cannot be forced to the surface. Tools such as dreamwork, sandplay, movement and art are useful tools to open doors and invite the unconscious to appear.  In looking at the nature and the timing of Transits and Progressions to the natal chart, Psychological Astrology can give a clear indication of when unconscious material is ready to surface and in what area of the person’s life this will occur. The nature of the transiting planet will also indicate the manner in which this is likely to happen and hence how the individual can work with the energies rather than fight them. For example, Uranus transits have an unexpected sudden jolting energetic quality about them. It can almost feel like being plugged into an electric socket. The effects can include restlessness, difficulties sleeping, inspiration, frustration and a need for space and freedom. In contrast Neptune transits have a dissolving dreamy quality about them, which is often accompanied by a sense of sadness, confusion, a desire to fuse and an increase in imagination.

With knowledge of the above and of the client’s natal chart, the psychological astrologer can help the individual to work with the current transits in a way that fits their nature.  For example, Uranian energy is fast and if the client has a very watery or earthy rather than an airy or fiery chart they may feel distressed and shocked by what is occurring. If they are struggling to own their own need for freedom this may get projected onto partners and friends who may act it out through leaving the individual. Ultimately the function of the transit is to help the individual own this aspect within themselves. In describing the energies of the planets, signs and elements, the psychological astrologer uses the universal language of mythology offering immediate access to the unconscious where repressed dreams, passions and energies lie together with complexes.

With Couples

Relationships are a necessary mirror for our journey of individuation. The challenge for both partners is to keep the tension between the regressive desire to fuse and merge with the other, thereby returning to the womb like state of maternal symbiosis and the progressive need to incarnate, individuate and separate. Consciousness on the part of both individuals is crucial for this balance to be held.  Psychological Astrology can provide a symbolic map of the pertinent issues which the relationship will confront each person with individually as well as the couple as a third entity.

In working with relationships, the psychological astrologer will initially explore the charts of each individual separately to understand what the individual relationship needs and conflicts are. Questions such as: what is the parental marriage in each chart?  What was the individual’s primal relationship with their parents like, as this will inevitably be projected onto the relationship? How aware is each individual of his or her anima/animus issues? What part of them lies in shadow ready to be projected onto the partner? With this information the astrologer is then able to look at the connection or Synastry between the charts. This is the overlay of planets from one chart to the other and shows the similarities and differences as well as mapping out clearly where each individual slots into the others conflicts and complexes.  Projections can then be made conscious.

For example many charts are low in one of the four elements; earth, fire, air and water. The Astrological four elements are similar to Jung’s four functions of intuition, sensation, thinking and feeling. As humans we naturally seek wholeness and hence are attracted to that which we lack within ourselves. In relationships we often seek partners who abound in our missing element. However, if each person demands that the other live out their missing element without attempting to learn how to develop it within himself or herself, the partner will inevitably feel constricted and limited in their own growth and development.

The final stage with couples is the exploration of the composite chart, which is the chart of the relationship as a separate third entity and how the individuals relate to it.  One member of the couple may be more connected to the composite making him/her identify more strongly to the relationship or particular aspects of it. Transits to the composite chart are good indicators of periods of change in the relationship and the nature and duration of those changes.

With Therapists/Analysts

Much of my current work as a psychological astrologer is as a consultant to therapists and analysts when they are seeking input with clients. The current transits and progressions give a clear focus on the archetypes that are being wakened in the client’s life currently as well as the defences that s/he is most likely to use.  It can be a particularly useful adjunct to dreamwork. Looking at the Synastry between the therapist and client and the composite chart of the therapeutic relationship are also useful tools to explore the similarities and differences between therapist and client.  Clients inevitably mirror back issues, which are pertinent within our own psyches at this particular time. Looking at the charts provides an immediate and clear mirror of what these issues are. Psychological astrology can also provide support to therapists in caring for ourselves and in exploring further our motivation for our work. The asteroid Chiron is often very prominent in the chart of psychotherapists/healers as in mythology he was the wounded healer. I was recently at a Marian Woodman workshop where she described psychotherapy as ‘the most dangerous profession in the world’ because there is so much pain in the room and often we don’t have enough tools to take care of ourselves. In understanding our natal chart from a psychological perspective we can reach a deeper understanding of how to nurture ourselves and from that place we can reach out to enable others to heal themselves.

Margaret Gray, Professional Psychological Astrologer B.A. (TCD), M.S.W. D.Psych. Astrol. (CPA London UK)  www.astrologypsychological.com

References

Greene, L and Sasportas, H. (1988). Dynamics of the Unconscious. Arkana.

Greene, L and Sasportas, H. (1987). The development of the Personality.  Weiser Books

Hollis, J. (2000). Creating a Life: Finding your Individual Path.  Inner City Books

Hollis, J. (2003) On this Journey we Call our Life, Living the Questions. Inner City Books.

Mandela, N. (1994) Inaugural Speech.

Baigent, M., Campion, N and Harvey, C. (1992) Mundane Astrology. Thorsons Publications.