SHIFTING SPACES IN THE WHEEL:
A Shamanic Astrology Approach.
In the early stages of my forty years as an astrologer, I was often frustrated by the fact that a chart encompassed a huge amount of information and yet, mostly, people had one reading in a life time or a reading every year for transits and progressions. I always felt I had so much information about their life cycles but they actually knew very little – just a snippet from me once a year. Clients would leave bombarded by an avalanche of details and yet, they absorbed a very small amount of the knowledge available. The information contained in a chart is a working body of energetic information that can be used and applied on a daily basis. I wanted my clients leaving with a working strategy to keep them engaged in their chart until they saw me again. I felt readings should be building knowledge and understanding so the client became more proficient in working with their charts.
For me this had to change. This article documents this change, tracing my journey into a deeper understanding and an enhanced practice of Shamanic Astrology.
“The Personal Planets”
Luckily, I was given a job at the Lancaster County Prison in Pennsylvania. There I met an astrologer, Linda Curtis, who was taking classes on astrology at the prison, and I stood in for her whilst she took a break. The brief was that the inmates could come regularly over ongoing periods or they might choose to just come on a one-off basis to any given session: so my program had to be meaningful to passers-by as well as to regular attendees.
I decided the best strategy that I could pursue in order to engage these men was to teach them about the personal planets that represent the foundation of our characters. My program took a personal planet, one at a time: the Sun to Mars. I discussed the role of each of these planets via the sign, mode and house that each of the participants had within their chart. This gave them a picture of how their personal characters were operating and illuminated the interesting dynamics operating within this core group of planets.
After success in this program, I decided that in my readings for people I would also concentrate on knowing and understanding how the basic character functions within them. Rather than the focus being on the outer planets that may affect a personal planet, I reversed the emphasis. I added the outer planet affect as secondary, once we had fully appreciated how the personal planets were operating.
If a particular personal planet was deeply afflicted then I would concentrate on all the aspects of that piece of the chart rather than trying to cover the entire chart in one sitting. The chart became like a jigsaw of circuits, identifying specific issues to consider and understand, before progressing onto the next piece. I then shortened my sessions to one hour so I could maintain clients’ concentration and hopefully, allow them to retain and embody the knowledge. I felt that if they deemed the session was valuable, they would return for the next piece. This allowed me to read and teach astrology in the same session.
This new technique was rewarding for me. I found more value in my new mode of working. Previously, I prepared so much on a chart and often felt the client left a session overwhelmed and unclear on where to begin creating changes. I too was learning to use a chart with greater depth and connection to how the client was responding to the astrology. Astrology is about taking responsibility for what you are creating and, with enough awareness, using the transiting energies to create what are the best options a client can manifest as opposed to what I, the astrologer thought they would manifest. This approach asked me to be clear on how energies can work together and how to create alternative ways the energy available can be manifested.
“Entering the Astrology Wheel”
The next stage of the development of Shamanic Astrology was in my preparation for a reading. I would visualise the chart on the floor of any space I occupied and I found myself moving around the planetary picture of the chart speaking fragments of the chart, mostly of the personal planets. I would be performing how the character in the chart would respond to anger; told to me by the aspects connected to Mars. I would examine the character’s communication by standing in the Mercury placement and following the aspect lines of where it led me. As I walked I would be speaking out loud the possibilities of how this could be functioning. I would rehearse this character of personal planets until I felt how it could flow most easily.
By the time my client had arrived, I had located the questions or the places in the chart where I believed blockages might lie. I also found that in plotting the circuits or the routes of energy that ran from one planet to the next planet via aspects, there was more than one way to walk it. I considered that maybe we programmed our astrological aspects to run in certain patterns but there was nothing preventing us from running them in differing ways. I was beginning to think that all our aspects in our circuits could be walked, spoken and viewed from many different perspectives.
This practice progressed into putting the client into the wheel and observing what they were telling me was in the planetary placements. However, this created a dilemma for me: how was I going to get a client to enter the wheel? It’s just not feasible to go and stand in a random part of a room and say “this is your Sun placement”. In any magical work, there is a need to set space, the area of work is a defined space. I realised that the chart is a map defined by the angles. So, like creating any sacred wheel where the four directions are laid out, I would use the IC/MC ASC/DSC as the directions that contain the space.
While this was a great idea, it made the entering of the wheel even more difficult because the IC was the only choice of entry for me. This is the point of the roots of the chart, our early life, family and all that we stand on. It is also the point of all our accumulated life experiences or preceding life times are contained. This is not an easy place to stand for anyone. However, the MC is about where we are going so we can’t enter from a futuristic point of the chart. The MC speaks to us of manifestation; where we are growing too. The ASC/DSC is a “projected image” axis. Who do I want you to see me as (ASC) and who do I want you to be? (DSC). The work I was doing was attempting to cut through the projections.
Finally, I achieved peace about the rationale behind the location where people enter the wheel. I believe that the IC is the appropriate place because sometimes there is much that needs to be discarded before beginning the work of building and strengthening the personal picture. Marking out the angles of the chart by the client walking in and out of them first also gives them an idea of what the chart actually is: it’s their map or energetic blueprint. It also facilitates finding any planetary placement, as I would use the angles to locate which quadrant the client needed to stand in. This really embodied the chart, the map became known; clients knew where planets were in the scheme of the chart. It made the chart actualise rather than just be a print out on paper.
The next development was the realisation that doing this once or even annually wasn’t optimal either. This work needed to be ongoing; there was a need to see the client regularly to build aspect upon aspect. Hence, I created the six-week programs, which had originated this whole process back in the County Prison. The journey had come full circle. This is the program of Shamanic Astrology that I run today. I begin with a six-week program, though this often extends into longer time frames.
“The Six Week Program”
The objective of the first six weeks is to accustom the client to a working practice of their personal character. This process is twofold: to discover the many issues that require attention within this character, and to teach the client astrology. While I don’t believe that everyone should learn astrology, and often the people participating in this program are not there to learn astrology, as astrologers we recognise that the more information people have of the subject, the deeper we can work with their understanding of themselves. Using the birth chart has infinite depth with regard our client’s issues and the timing of when to access the information. The lines blur with Shamanic Astrology: a client comes to understand who they are and leaves with a working knowledge of basic astrology or a client comes to learn astrology and leaves with a depth of knowledge about themselves. The latter is true of all astrology students.
“So why is this Shamanic?”
Michael Harner (1980), anthropologist and author of The Way of the Shaman states Shamans – whom we in the so-called civilised world have called “medicine men or witch doctors– are the keepers of a remarkable body of ancient techniques used to achieve and maintain well-being for themselves and members of their community. ” pxiii Introduction.
“Shamanism is a great mental and emotional adventure, one in which the patient as well as the shaman healer are involved. Through his heroic journey and efforts, the shaman helps the patient transcend their normal, ordinary definition of reality, including the definition of themselves as ill. Pxiv Introduction”
This understanding of shamanism immediately spoke to me of my years of study with astrology along with other areas of the occult that I had researched. We, as astrologers, have a remarkable body of knowledge that takes years to integrate. We do offer our clients the knowledge of how to transcend everyday reality and we can inform them as to the best timing to do so. The missing piece was that we do so across a table and in verbal form whilst in the shamanic world, we join them in the wheel. The astrologer becomes the facilitator, navigating the journey inside the chart of the client. We work with these energies.
In all definitions of shamanism, there is a need for the shaman to understand and “know” the energies that are available to interact with and to be able to use these energies to alter the way they express. We can alter the way energy expresses by awareness.: Developing awareness is the beginning of all change.
Astrology is a tool that names energies. It maps them and in the depiction of a chart, astrologers can witness the way that the energy moves from one planetary aspect to another. We are naming energy – we know how it functions by its element and mode. We can see by aspects how one planet interacts with another. We know the nature of the aspects. We can see the connection of the planets creating a total energetic circuit. Therefore, if the energy is blocked or not functioning then we too can journey into this chart and change its flow.
Changing the flow works with the same pattern of planetary configurations that has always been functioning in the natal chart; we just walk it in a different direction.
The components of this work that lead me to name it Shamanic are firstly, to become the energy pattern inside the wheel. That is experiential. Walk it, talk it, be it; this is very liberating. This is a very different experience and often different interpretation to the astrology where we are reading it from outside the wheel. For a start, it is not based on the astrologer’s interpretation but guided by the astrologer’s knowledge of astrology to bring the clients to their own interpretation. This is important because the client retains the knowledge, a deep understanding is reached – one that is not forgotten. The astrologer learns to trust the knowledge that is astrology; I have never had a client response where I couldn’t place its origins in the particular aspect of astrology that we were embodying. It might not have been my interpretation but it always is an astrological interpretation.
This dynamic allows the client to be free of astrologer’s projections onto various aspects. For example, it is deeply saddening when a client walks through my door with a strong dislike of a particular feature in their birth chart, be it their Capricorn Moon or Scorpio whatever. Who has given them this? There is positive expression in all aspects just as there are shadows. Optimally, let the clients seek their own shadow and strengths as that will have a more lasting effect. Guiding the client to their own awareness is a profound and rewarding reading session for both parties; whilst the chart and its aspects let me decipher the paths that can illuminate where understandings can be found. The role of the astrologer means being able to perceive how the client has programmed the circuits of their chart to create particular ways of behaving. The role then becomes how, by utilising the set of planets contained in the circuit, can we reroute the energy so we behave in a different way.
This takes me back to the quote from Michael Harner(1990:?), xvi Introduction
Through his heroic journey and efforts the shaman helps the patient transcend their normal, ordinary definition of reality, including the definition of themselves as ill.
And I would add in need of healing, however rather than healing it might be more accurate to say that we are constantly creating new awareness.
Shamanic Astrology is the embodiment of our astrological energies. It allows us to learn about the make-up of our psyche from experience and then using the intellect, the emotions and movement to create a complete picture of how the energies of the natal chart are being programmed by us. This understanding is learnt fragment by fragment, as our aspect patterns tell us how the energy is circuited to each other. We can explore various questions or concerns by walking these circuits – how we do behave and how we might behave if we walked it in different ways.
It is often the case that a client tells me that they have no knowledge of various parts of the chart. They haven’t consciously participated in particular patterns ever. These are the parts that are most likely projected. Or a client may totally dwell in a particular circuit. We also can tell by walking these circuits, which paths are uncomfortable and not functioning and which pathways are the most commonly trodden paths. This shows the habitual patterning of our planetary pictures. These well-worn paths may function extremely positively in which case we now have that awareness. We create the choice to use the energies in whatever way works for us.
The aim of Shamanic Astrology is to be able to converse with all aspects of the chart leaving no hidden corners and no unconscious areas. This includes the outer planets. So, after our profound knowledge of the personal planets, the second phase is to acquaint with the outer planets. Ultimately, my vision is to be able to stand in the centre of the astrology chart – an area I call the Magician’s Seat – and be able to distinguish all the planetary placements and what is held in each one. These are the energies that we have available to all of us. We know their names and their properties. We can empower the centre of our wheel and become more conscious of the situations we manifest in our lives. We may even become proficient in using these energies to consciously create what manifests in our lives. Thus the wisdom of the Shaman.
Harner, Michael (1990) The Way of the Shaman. San Francisco: Harper & Rowe.