One of the first questions I ask my clients when they sit in front of me is: "What is your previous experience with astrology?" I like to know if the person has had a reading before, and what preconceptions they might be bringing to the table. Their perceptions often come from encounters with traditional astrology, reading about their sun sign in newspaper columns or Cosmopolitan. The client is able to tell me a list of personality traits or qualities they have, according to the usual generalities of the sun sign. If they are a Virgo, they’ll tell me how detail-oriented and organized they are. Or, if an Aries, they’ve decided they are brash, brave, and temperamental. My astrological approach, however, is based upon the belief that we are not just a list of personality traits, doomed to forever stay in that labeled box. I embrace instead the idea that we are dynamic, not static, and that our souls are evolving and growing, that we change. In this tradition, astrology is used as a means toward that evolution.
Evolutionary Astrology is a branch of Astrology defined by Steven Forrest and Jeffrey Wolf Green, and practiced by many others. The basic tenet that underlies this system is that our souls develop in an ongoing progression, from lifetime to lifetime. Implicit in this belief is that there is an inherent meaning, or purpose, to the lifetime we are now experiencing. What the evolutionary perspective seeks to provide are useful tools toward the achievement of that purpose. In order to find those tools, we may need to become aware of our past-life wounds, issues, and blocks that we are bringing forward into this life. These issues are described in the natal chart, which serves as not only a map or blueprint for this life’s fulfillment, but a description of the past. Through awareness of this purpose and by understanding the blocks, we are able to move forward more efficiently, with less existential pain. It also involves becoming aware of our karma, our karmic issues, and how those are affecting us now.
Let us first define Karma. My old American College dictionary defines it thusly: Karma- (Hinduism and Buddhism) the cosmic operation of retributive justice, according to which one’s status in life is determined by his deeds in a previous incarnation. However, I find this definition to be extremely limiting, and would guess that most Hindus and Buddhists would find it reductionist at best.
As defined by Evolutionary Astrology, Karma can be approached as a collection of patterns and habits left over from past lives, habits we keep repeating because they feel comfortable and we are "at home" with them. The challenge is to move past the habits and patterns, the grooves of past behaviors, into a new set of themes to play out in this life. They are areas where we feel we keep getting "stuck".
These patterns and "comfort zones" can appear to be overtly negative. The classic example would be the person abused in a past life who creates an abusive environment for themselves in this life because it feels comfortable and familiar. However, these karmic patterns can appear to be positive as well, but still may serve as hindrances and limitations. An example of this situation would be the student who excels in every subject, graduates magna cum laude…then continues on to be a student for the next 15 years. This individual has become comfortable in this area of academia, and most likely gets positive strokes for it. However, we might all look at that person and think: “Isn’t there something more useful they could be doing?” More importantly, that perpetual student isn’t likely to feel ultimately fulfilled, and will likely be bored, albeit safe.
The concept of reincarnation and past lives is a controversial one, but must also be addressed when discussing this type of Astrology. If the concept of reincarnation doesn’t fit for you, you may also think of it as “genetic memory”, “ancestral memory”, or a link to the “collective unconscious”. It is helpful, but not necessary, to believe in reincarnation in order to benefit from this astrological approach. Regardless of the provability of past-lives (and there actually are many convincing scientific supports for this idea), it seems plausible at the very least that we do come to this earth, as infants, with some sense of a past or a personality intact. Most parents will tell you that their infant was not a blank slate – babies come in with very definite ideas, preferences, and even phobias. A logical explanation for this would be the existence of reincarnation. But, as this is a taboo idea for many in our western culture, the idea of physical, or cellular memory might seem more plausible.
How this branch of astrology differs from the traditional practice can be summed up best in an anecdote from my personal experience. When I began to study astrology, as a teenager, I avidly read everything I could get my hands on about the sign of Cancer (my sun sign, obviously). I was told by Linda Goodman and others that I was domestic, motherly, and bound to my family. I was also deemed by the Astrology books to be emotionally sensitive, moody, and possessive. I was told that ultimately, I sought security and a stable home environment. And I would likely have children.
Well, some of this is true enough. I would self-assess as emotionally sensitive, fairly moody, and definitely with a stronger than usual sense of duty towards my family and my roots. And, since I already knew that, this information didn’t help me much. Traditional astrology stops just short of being truly helpful by simply being a labeling system. It is limiting. Furthermore, it did not address the fact that I simply don’t see myself as a mother, at least not in this lifetime. So, what of all that Cancerian domesticity? Where was my mothering instinct? It was only when I came to understand the developmental nature of the evolutionary approach that I could see my own chart for what it was: a map, a blueprint for my soul’s fulfillment. I understood that I was not just "a Cancer", but that I was here, in part, to learn about and integrate the qualities of Cancer. The older I get, the more I see my Cancerian nature coming to fruition. I can see that there are issues surrounding mothering, and being mothered, that I am learning about in great detail in this lifetime. And, I don’t need to be a mother in order to learn about it.
I still hold an affectionate place in my heart for Linda Goodman; she was, after all, one of my first teachers. But the growth of Astrology, I believe, requires us to get beyond that labeling-system mentality, which doesn’t really do anything of use on its own.
Using the labels within the context of a whole chart, we get a more 3-dimensional vision of the person. But beyond that, there is the ability of astrology to help answer the Big Questions: "Why am I here? What am I about? Where is my path?" These are the questions that are definitely most "up" for my clients, the questions that are put to me most often. Second runner up is "How do I find my soul mate?" Well, I can’t predict when that will happen, but evolutionary astrology can help answer all of the above questions.
Most importantly, a modern approach to astrology embraces premise that the individual has free will, and that each of us is responsible for creating the circumstances of our lives. Just knowing the qualities of Cancer does not dictate whether or not I decide to be a mother: that is dictated by my free will. Likewise, being a Pisces does not predict that you will be a flaky alcoholic, as many of the traditional books might describe, nor does being a Capricorn make you a boring, responsible workhorse. These are shadow sides of the sign, and of course you could choose to follow them. Or, you could choose to embrace the positive aspects of your sun sign, and learn about the energies you were assigned to deal with at birth. Only you get to decide what shape your life will take; the sun sign is just a description of some of the traits you’ve come in with and have as resources and hindrances alike. The benefit of astrology is that it gives you a "tool kit" of sorts; it describes the nature of your strengths and gifts. And the knowledge of karmic patterns helps one to sort out and understand blockages and pitfalls in one’s life. With that knowledge, we can ease our passage through this life and into the next.
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