Category Archives: Astro-Debate: questioning popular astrology with Victor Olliver (3 articles)

Questioning popular astrology (3) : the ‘smoke screen’ effect? Anne Whitaker replies to Victor Olliver…

We live in a vast energy field of constant movement, most of which is totally invisible to mere humans with their limited perceptual apparatus. The rippling patterns of order and chaos, that fundamental dance, govern everything. I have come to see the art of astrology (helped by what I am able to grasp of what the quantum world has revealed to us) as one which enables us to map those patterns as they are viewed from Earth via the constant shifting energies of the planets in their orbits.

Then astrologers take the step which in our reductionist, materialist culture pulls down all sorts of opprobrium and scorn upon our heads. We attribute meaning to those patterns.  From ancient times, right up until the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century caused a major split between form described by astronomy, and content described by astrology, the maxim “As above, so below” governed people’s world view. We lived then in a cosmos charged with meaning, where form and content reflected and informed each other.

We are all particles...

We are all particles…

Some of us still live in that cosmos. Others do not. Where you have such a powerful clash of world views, you get polarisation, and prejudice. I think that Victor Oliver was right in his eloquent and well-argued response to my doubts and questions about popular astrology, to point out that the real enemy of astrology is prejudice.

Prejudice from outwith the astrological community, from those who believe that our lives are the product of cosmic chance, thereby devoid of meaning. Prejudice from those within the community who consider themselves to be ‘serious’ practitioners, towards the populist, mass-market astrology which millions avidly consume across a vast range of media on a daily basis, looking for some glimmer of meaning in life.

What do we do about this? In reflecting on how I might “wrap up” Victor’s and my debate, which has generated a very great deal of interest (traffic to this site quadrupled in the few days that our posts were most active!) across the Web, the word “occult” came strongly to mind. So I pondered on it for a few days. According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the original meaning of the word is from the Latin ‘occulere’ ie ‘to hide, conceal’. It also (in a more physical sense) means ‘to cut off from view by interposing some other body’ as in, for example, the occultation of one planet or heavenly body by another.

The word ‘occult’ in recent times has taken on a more sinister connotation, referring more to magical or supernatural practices. But I became more and more interested, on reflection, in the original meaning of the word. It has led me to a conclusion about the status of astrology, especially in our modern world.

This is it: the true depth of what astrology can reveal about human affairs both in the collective and the personal sense, will always be inaccessible to the large majority of people. Astrology is an occult subject. As such, its influence and its great value is likely to remain masked, hidden from view, operating powerfully but behind the scenes of everyday life.

For example, in very ancient times its practice was held in high esteem eg by Babylonian or Egyptian rulers, whose astrologer-priests scanned the stars and advised the kings (and sometimes, even, the queens!)  of the fate of their nations. There were no personal horoscopes then. The general public were in no way consulted or informed regarding decisions made which affected all their lives. Astrological knowledge, deemed sacred, was deliberately kept hidden from ‘ordinary’ view.

In our time mass-market popular astrology – paradoxically – could be seen as fulfilling the function of concealing the real power of astrology pretty effectively. Most of the public remain unaware of the depth which exists behind the mask of the Sun Sign columns – although I do agree with Victor that there is a very big difference between the glimmer of truth which a quality Sun Sign column can reveal, and the kind of trashy stuff which any old tea lady could dash off. (I have been a tea lady in my day, so please, no offence given or taken!)

Sun Sign columns are also rather effective in raising the ire and spleen of reductionists who thereby are permanently deflected from benefitting from astrology’s true depth, which at times could have been life-saving as evinced in a powerful example of astrologer Dennis Elwell’s prescient warning in the 1980s.

Dennis Elwell, the late well-known and respected UK astrologer mentioned in Victor’s post, was revealed as having written in 1987 to the main shipping lines to warn them that a pattern very similar to that under which the Titanic had sunk, was coming up in the heavens very soon. He strongly suggested that they review the seaworthiness and safety procedures of all their passenger ships. His warning was duly dismissed. Not long afterwards, the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry boat went down, with the loss of 188 lives.

It is true, as Victor points out, that mass market astrology is the stepping-stone which enables people who are seekers after deeper meaning than the Sun Sign columns can provide, to step from relative triviality to much greater depth.

If you want to understand the profound link which exists between your small personal existence and the larger, meaningful cosmos which your unique chip of energy has entered in order to make its contribution, then you need actively to seek out a good astrologer to offer you a sensitive and revealing portrait of your moment of birth via your horoscope. Those of us who are in-depth practitioners know that a quality astrology reading with the right astrologer at the right time can be truly life-changing.

However, only a small percentage of people who read Sun Sign columns take that step into deeper territory. Most do not. Either they are quite happy – or put off – by the superficiality they find there, or they spin off into active enraged prejudice and sometimes very public condemnation of our great art…

My pondering on the word ‘occult’ therefore, has led me to quite a peaceful place, Victor – I am sure you will be very pleased for me!  I can now stop being annoyed with my colleagues who are Sun Sign astrologers: they are offering a valuable service in providing a smoke screen.  This helps greatly to maintain astrology in its true place as an ‘occult’ activity, leavening the lumpen ignorance and crassness of our materialist, consumer age  from behind the scenes.

Readers, what do you think of this view? I’d be most interested to hear.

(as before, any offensive comments will be ruthlessly binned)

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1100 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Questioning popular astrology (2) : media astrologer Victor Olliver’s robust reply…

Yesterday, I posted Part (1) : Questioning popular astrology, listing my challenges and questions regarding the merits – or otherwise – of popular astrology. True to form, Victor responded thus: “…feels like a bull fight and you’ve just flicked the red cape…”

Read, react, enjoy – and REPLY!

( nb anything offensive will be ruthlessly binned)

Uk's Astrological Journal Jan:Feb 2015

Uk’s Astrological Journal Jan:Feb 2015

Thanks for inviting me to contribute to your wonderful site, Anne. Though I’m the editor of  The Astrological Journal, and The Lady magazine’s resident stargazer, I am still relatively new to professional astrology and only recently have become a lot more aware of the huge psychological gulf between serious and popular astrology. This surprises me because in all worlds there’s a spectrum of expression, from public face to purist core and in between. Why not in astrology, too?

Take the fashion world, for instance. Expensive haute couture and pret-a-porter are showcased at the international collections and these in turn inspire high street looks for ordinary budgets. The cheaply-produced mass market is as much a part of fashion as Anna Wintour’s Vogue. But we don’t say that the clothes in shop windows are not fashion or that these looks are embarrassing. Indeed, without the retail outlets there would be no fashion except for the super-rich.

Likewise, in another sense, in astrology. Many practitioners of serious or scholarly star-gazing disdain the popular expression, namely in media Sun-sign horoscope columns; and some even doubt the validity or credibility of the solar chart. Others are shamed by the apparent crassness and simplicity of these media columns and try to ignore them.

This really is self-defeating in my view.

The actual ‘enemy’ of astrology is prejudice. It comes in a number of forms. Chiefly, the prejudice of many secularists and what I call science cultists can be dismissed quickly. We know who they are. They rubbish astrology yet know nothing about it. They laud science yet respond most unscientifically to something they’ve never studied or researched.  Then there’s prejudice in the world of astrology against popularisation. Serious astrologers fear that the Mystic Megs are letting the side down and making it easier for science debunkers to debunk.

But here’s the truth: debunkers/doubters/science cultists are not interested in whether your astrology has been assayed by the laboratory’s finest geeks or simply dreamt up by fake stargazers. No matter how learned the astrological study and compelling the results, nothing will sway the know-all who’s certificated with a science professorship. They believe astrology is rubbish. So in their case, media Sun-sign horoscopes is a non-issue – it’s just the thin end of the fraudulent wedge. We need not concern ourselves with determined nay-sayers. We waste our time trying to play up to them.

Nonetheless, I fully support those astrologers who bring academic rigour to the subject and seek to find mainstream respectability – not because I think a professional debunker can be turned, but for the sake of a better appreciation of astrology. Science itself will in time gradually move towards a greater understanding of the nature of the cosmos, possibly through quantum mechanics – you’ve written about this yourself – and the time will come when the intellectual climate for astrology will be a lot more receptive than it presently is.

Now, what about Sun-sign astrology. Is it valid? That’s the real question. Let me quote the brilliant late astrologer Dennis Elwell who was known to be highly critical of ‘trivialising’ media horoscopes. This is what he actually wrote in a 1975 essay titled ‘Is There A Solar Chart?’: “I do believe in the basic validity of solar chart transits but that is not to say that they can be relied upon to produce readings every day, week or month, depending on how often a particular journal happens to be published, or that they are always interpreted correctly.”

Elwell was quite idealistic in his expectation of constant ‘reliability’ and perhaps forgot McLuhan’s well-known dictum: “The medium is the message”. In other words, a mass market entertainment magazine is not likely to play host to a discursive, learned, nuanced forecast from the house astrologer. Newspapers and magazines usually seek snappy one-liners that can be digested at a glance. The ‘house style’ is what matters and the astrologer must seek to fill the allotted space as well as she or he can.

A great many media astrologers these days are actually trained astrologers, such as myself. The ‘simplistic’ solar chart, with the relevant Sun-sign cusp placed at the ascendant point, is all about transit ingresses and aspects. To state the obvious:  if we accept that transits-to-birth chart speak to us then transits-to-transits have something to say also – an idea that’s no problem to, say, electional astrologers. The challenge is less the solar astrology and more what is selected for the column and how it is written up.

My approach to the solar chart, interpretively, is more-or-less the same as to a natal chart. My professional media grail is to find a form of words that is both entertaining and true to the spirit of the moment for each sign. It was Elwell who wrote so beautifully (in his book Cosmic Loom) of how an aspect can find concurrent expression in a multiplicity of ways in life and events, from the ridiculous to the sublime. We’d be wise to keep our minds open to this feature of astrology which even now we do not properly comprehend.

Astrology is a flexible thing: it communicates its wisdom no matter the house system, national culture, computer programme, dubious birth detail or oblivious opposition.

Anne, to answer your question: there’s nothing to justify. If one’s mindset is dead against popular expression, then avoid reading the Jonathan Cainers. Avert your gaze. If you fear that Sun-sign astrology is polluted by the Shelley von Strunckels, then here’s a comforting thought: in the minds of science cultists, astrology is already polluted. It’s dead! And if certain persons judge astrology by their cursory reading of Mystic Meg, you can rest confident that they probably skate over a lot of life’s other treasures of the spirit. Perhaps their preference of depth is cricket or crochet.

Contrary to what many scholar-astrologers think, media horoscopes are the main bridge to the public, just as a short chic affordable jacket in Marks & Sparks may resonate with fans of high-end Chanel. We should be grateful for the enduring need for ‘irrational’ advice from our nation’s stargazers. As Nick Campion has averred, the Sun-sign column – for a great many people – offers the only one moment in the day when time is taken to consider the general shape of the life (or Life) or to question the point of doing something. In a materialistic world, this is a form of spiritual awareness, albeit rudimentary in many instances. But don’t knock it.

And, Anne, next time you’re offered a Sun-sign column, take it. And aim to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. The experience may prove both humbling (in the challenge to bring high minds down to earth) and rewarding (as in, er, bank balance). 

Victor Olliver

Victor Olliver

Victor Olliver’s Lifesurfing: Your Horoscope Forecast Guide 2015 is available in Kindle or paperback on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lifesurfing-Your-Horoscope-Forecast-Guide-ebook/dp/B00KHUE6US/ref=sr_1_1_twi_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424635718&sr=8-1&keywords=lifesurfing+2015

Victor Olliver is the editor of The Astrological Journal and media officer of the Association of Professional Astrologers International, and has a distinction diploma in natal and mundane astrology from the Mayo School. Before turning to the study of astrology back in 2008, he was an entertainment/lifestyle editor, journalist and writer. He has worked as an editor for, among others, IPC Magazine, Mirror Group and Daily Mail & General Trust. As a freelance writer he has contributed to many publications including The Sunday Times Magazine, Australia Women’s Weekly and Marie Claire. He currently lives on the south coast in West Sussex.
Victor Olliver
volliver5@aol.com
Twitter: @VictorOlliver
Facebook: Victor Olliver Astrology
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To read Part 3 of this debate, click HERE

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1350 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Victor Olliver  2015

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Questioning popular astrology (1) : Anne Whitaker challenges media astrologer Victor Olliver

In recent months I’ve had the pleasure, thanks to Facebook,  of ‘meeting’ astrologer Victor Olliver, the new Editor of UK’s long established Astrological Journal and star sign columnist for The Lady magazine. As well as sharing a love of astrology (and a very black sense of humour), we have already collaborated on several writing projects. This is proving to be great fun as well as being most stimulating.

One of the things I like about Victor is his love of a good argument. So, I decided he was just the person with whom I could raise my various doubts about the merits of popular astrology. I wrote to him, airing my questions and objections at some length. Here they are. Victor’s response will follow in the next post.

Dear Victor

I have always refused invitations to write popular astrology columns, feeling that to do this would be to throw my lot in with the ‘entertainment wing’ of astrology. Those of us who are trained and experienced astrologers know that there is a profound, ancient and some would say sacred art hidden behind this popular mask. Some of us who know this – like yourself – still manage to combine in-depth astrology practice with writing astrology for the popular press, apparently without feeling any particular discomfort at straddling both worlds.

I suppose my big problem is that the astro-dismissers are almost invariably people who have never gone into astrology in any depth, because they never get past the shallow waters of popular astrology where they find plenty of ammunition for their scorn, much of it valid when you have a look around a lot of the astro-stuff published in the world’s media.

Personally, I see off any astro-dismissers by fixing them with a keen gaze, enquiring very politely whether they have ever studied the subject in depth, and responding to their evasions (very few direct admissions of ignorance are forthcoming) by suggesting they go away to study the subject in depth for a couple of years then come back to resume our conversation. As a ‘serious’ astrologer, I have to admit to feeling defensive when asked what I do, invariably saying that I do in-depth stuff which has very little to do with the astrology to be found in the popular press.

Is there any way round this problem? Should we all just accept that astrology of whatever shallowness or depth will simply never be taken seriously within our current materialist culture, and cheerfully get on with it, whatever kind of astrology we do? Would it be helpful if ‘serious’ astrologers who also do popular astrology were to admit that for many of us, the gap between the public face and the private reality of astrology and its practice is a very hard one to bridge?

What are your views on this, Victor? How do you justify occupying both worlds to yourself and others – and what do you suggest those of us do (apart from go boil our heads) who feel uncomfortable at having our commitment to serious, in-depth work ridiculed by people who have taken their stance from perusing the shallow material available in much of the popular press?

Do feel free, dear Readers,  to leave some observations  of your own on this contentious issue – as long as you understand that anything abusive will be binned without mercy!

To read Part Two, click HERE

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker  2015

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Pag