Archives for category: Psychology

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If you look carefully at the image above, it will quickly be apparent that that the zodiac, the planets and their relationships form a mandala, which, by definition, is a symbolic or geometric figure representing the universe. Within the figure, we see that each of the original planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter & Saturn – are used with two signs, while the Sun & Moon, placed in the 4th and 5th house, are used once. But look at their descriptions: the Moon is associated with security and the Sun with creativity.

We can all find reasons why that might be so, but to me the first explanation is that we need both: we need to be secure to be creative and vice-versa. Only here, I would alter or expand the meaning of the word creative. Creativity is not about doing a watercolor or learning a musical instrument; it is, rather, the growth, the creation of the Self. And for many of us – and I include myself – that is not an easy process. If you look at the mandala again, you can see that there are many potential layers to who we are. Walking through the figure, a narrative emerges: we need all these qualities: appearance (our bodies), acquisition (what surrounds us, both tangibly and non-tangibly, communication (how we interact), security (are we safe, do we feel safe) and so on.

Readers of this newsletter know that I’m always cautioning about the overuse of Sun signs, but they have their role. One is to use them as ideas for meditation – and in this case, I don’t necessarily mean sitting in a cross-legged in a dark room with candles. We can – and we do – meditate all the time: when we’re at work, on the bus, with our families, basically everywhere. Unfortunately, most of it is wasted on worry, anger, fear, indignation and a hundred other fleeting states of emotion. So instead of dwelling on negative states, try using some of the themes below to think about yourself, your life and what you want to do. Keep in mind, as well, that because your Sun sign is only a small factor of your chart, you may feel a great deal of kinship with the sign under which you’re born.

Aries – positive: self-assertion, enthusiasm, the direct approach; negative: hurried, inconsiderate, conceit

Taurus – positive: building and maintaining a secure structure; negative: greed, stubbornness, a ponderous approach to the world

Gemini – positive: flexibility, communication take center stage; negative: disorganization, emotionally restless 

Cancer – positive: nurturing, sensitive; negative: timid, tends to withdraw

Leo – positive: generous, optimistic, independent; negative: dislike of routine, overlooks the details

Virgo – positive: service, methodical, down-to-earth; negative: critical, inhibited, overly reliant on formalities

Libra – positive: diplomatic, able to creat harmonies; negative: indecisive, problems with self-assertion

Scorpio – positive: strong, determination, powerful insight; negative: dependent on recognition, secretive, manipulative

Sagittarius – positive: independent, generous, searching; negative: righteousness, superficiality

Capricorn – positive: practical, disciplined, patient; negative: mistrusting, joyless, cold

Aquarius – positive: original, imaginative, broad perspective; negative: overly detached, misses emotional clues

Pisces – positive: flexibility, adaptive, versatile; negative: boundaries, difficulty with self-assertion and goals


With thousands of charts and consultations to look back on, there are certain key issues that many, many people seem to struggle with. If I had to identify one of the top three it would be the difficulty people have with saying the word “NO”.

Why is that? I think there are lots of reasons. One is that NO feels prohibitive and we live in a culture where denial of any kind feels akin to an infringement of personal rights. Consider all the messages around consensus, such as “Getting to Yes,” or it’s “It’s a Win/Win situation” or “Don’t take NO for an answer”. In other words, there appears to be a rather powerful subconscious message that saying NO is somehow wrong. But common sense would suggest otherwise, which leads to quote that I particularly like:

“A NO that is constructive is a thousand times better than a YES that is not.”

So how do we know the difference and what does it have to do with astrology? The fact is that you can’t know what is constructive or destructive if you don’t know yourself, if you don’t know what your interests are, if you don’t know what you want. In general, clarity of Self tends to reduce confusion about when and why to say NO. But it’s important to understand the social constructions around the topic: because NO is perceived as prohibitive and negative, many of us are uncomfortable saying it (as well as uncomfortable hearing it) and start avoiding the word. And this confusion cuts across every relationship and circumstance: partners, friends, families, co-workers, etc.

In regards to a natal chart, there are lots of ways this difficulty with NO can develop. For example, it can be a temperament issue, like an excess of water in the chart making you too flexible, unable to take a stand. You may be willing, or simply unable to stop yourself, from giving up too much power. Here’s another scenario: you may be deeply divided about what you want. If your Sun is in Aries and your Moon is in Pisces, the internal dialog may alternate between “It’s all about me. No, wait, it’s all about you.” That’s a lot of tension to carry and potentially leads to behavior that is self-defeating, or that sends mixed messages.

So the need to know yourself is the prerequisite to knowing when and where to say NO. But it doesn’t address the issue of learning how to say NO.

To begin, let me propose a handy rule:

Start with a small NO.

If you’re having difficulty with NO, begin by becoming comfortable using NO in situations where the stakes are not high. Why is that? Because you’re basically building a muscle. If you didn’t work out for a long time, you wouldn’t being with a hundred pound weight, you’d start with a weight that was within the range of your strength and work your way up. The same with NO. Use it in situations that are fairly easy. Like, NO, I don’t want to go there to eat. Or NO, that’s not how I want to spend the afternoon. Basically, you’re looking for any situation where the pushback is not likely to be significant or forceful. Which brings us to the second rule of learning to say NO:

You don’t need a reason.

The fact is, a lot of people become stuck or defensive when their NO is challenged. But in reality, you don’t actually need a reason not want to do something. You don’t need a reason that the other party likes, understands, agrees with or any other reaction they might give. Keep in mind, if you’re having difficulty saying NO, then you’re likely to lose force by explaining your NO. This is again, by the way, the reason you start small. You want to become comfortable saying the word and you want it to mean something. To go back to last week’s quotation:

“A NO that is constructive is a thousand times better than a YES that is not.”

If you know what you want, if you know where you’re going, if you know what is in your best interests, then saying NO is not destructive. But the critical issue is knowing yourself. 

2. Wild Grape_41_61 (JLT)

In regards to your chart, one idea that is worth thinking about is the difference between growth and development. The reason I bring this up is that some people have the idea that they have qualities within them that will naturally grow, but that’s only true up to a point and in a certain way.

From my own perspective, growth is a process that more or less happens by itself. Beginning with our physical bodies, all kinds of changes take place in the first 17 or 18 years of life that are not willed by us in anyway. The same can be said of adulthood: we take jobs, find partners, grow old but in certain ways it just happens, it’s part of the flow of our lives.

Development, to me suggests, something entirely different, something conscious, and in readings I try to bring this idea forward. If, just for a broad example, you suffer from difficulty in relating to others, then you have to see that in yourself consistently and from a bunch of different perspectives and try to change. A person’s chart for the upcoming year can be helpful in that regard because it can suggest an opportunity or a need to change. Take the well-known and often dreaded Saturn return.

Saturn Example

By any standard of assessment, this is a difficult chart. Both the Sun and Venus are in opposition to Saturn and the Moon is square to it. Making matters worse, both Venus and the Moon are poorly placed by sign. I can pretty much close my eyes, grab a book from my library and find interpretations of these aspects that will make your hair turn white:

* Sun/Saturn: lack of self-confidence, fear of failure

* Moon/Saturn: emotionally withdrawn, lonely

* Venus/Saturn: difficulty making contact, relationships with a large age difference

So, a Saturn return in this case has the potential to set all of this dark material into motion. UNLESS, the individual can acknowledge and recognize these feelings, has not surrendered to them and is willing to do the hard work of actively working

against them. In the present example, I saw the client at their Saturn return and she was a mess. Most of the consultation revolved around the issues I just mentioned. Seven years later, when Saturn moved to a conjunction with the Moon and a square to the Sun and Venus (all difficult aspects) things were better. She had come out of some of the awful restriction that was making her life difficult.

When I saw her recently, with Saturn halfway through the return cycle, she had achieved a fair portion of happiness. She was still weighed down, but there was some release from her burdens. And in large part, it was due to the fact that 14 years ago, she could accept the difficult situation that she was in and was willing to work on herself.

Now, I’m using an extreme example here, but the lesson I’m trying to get across is simple. Development, while difficult, is very worthwhile. And to do it, You have to take the long view of yourself. And to take the long view, you have to see yourself, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative and be willing and flexible enough to change.

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“He/she is so complicated” is a statement I’ve heard a number of times while doing relationship readings, but as I pointed out last week, we’re all complex – in our needs, our reactions, our expectations and our assumptions. To take that even further, we are very often mysteries: even to ourselves. That wouldn’t be the worst state of existence except that our lack of knowledge of ourselves will, sooner or later, interfere or unravel nearly any relationship.

This is most easily glimpsed in extreme charts.  For instance, an abundance of fire in the chart will often result in a person who has a checklist when it comes to relationships. Everything has to be done at their speed or by the clock. An absence of fire can show up in a chart as a lack of drive. Motivation may be low, or the ability to bring force into a situation is missing. This can be particularly true if there is little fire in the chart and Mars is weak.

An over-abundance of earth in the chart can lead to a person getting bogged down, or to becoming narrow or too cautious. If unbalanced, the need for acquisition can take over. The absence of earth can result in a person who is “out of their body” on some level. Or, on a larger level, a person who is simply ungrounded, for whom building a structure of some kind is immensely challenging.

An excess of air in the chart will sometimes lead to someone who is overly rational or theoretical. There can be a sense of abstraction around such individuals. The lack of air, on the other hand, suggests an inability to see the bigger picture (an aerial view, so to speak) or unable to see themselves objectively. Perspective can suffer.

When water is the predominant element there is a strong need for emotional security as well as high sensitivity. There can be a feeling of vulnerability, as well as the desire to withdraw or be secretive. The lack of water can show up as the inability to empathise, to know how others may be feeling. It also can lead to a person who doesn’t know what their feelings are.

Bringing this back to relationships, it’s easy to see how an excess or lack of elements can lead to imbalance, not only within the individual, but in their relationships.  Even without a chart, much can be gained by looking at the above descriptions and thinking about how they may relate either to yourself or your partner.  Relationships begin with you.


Despite the fact that Valentine’s Day is almost exactly 6 months away, I thought it might be interesting to give a few thoughts on how astrology deals with that most interesting of topics – relationships.

Most books on relationships – or love astrology, as it’s often described – begin and end with Sun signs, but that’s not really the best place to start. While the Sun sign can say something about a person, consider the other six planets strictly in terms of relationships:

Moon: emotion

Mercury: communication

Venus: relation

Mars: action

Jupiter: expansion

Saturn: structure

If we only take those basic words and apply them to our partners, it’s immediately clear that there is plenty of opportunity for friction and miscommunication.  A person who feels strong, passionate emotions (Moon in Aries, for instance) may get frustrated in combination with someone whose need or tendency is to be analytic (Moon or Mercury in Virgo, as an example) in regards to emotions. When you consider all the possible combinations of the planets in the twelve signs, it’s no wonder problems arise.

But planets are not the only way astrology approaches relationships. It appears, and even psychologists are giving a lot more attention to this, that temperament has a lot to do with our interaction with the world and others. The easiest way to begin grasping temperament is to think of it as  our inherent nature. In other words, we’re born with it;  it is the cloth from which we’re cut.

Looking at the elements in astrology can give us a clue to temperament. In the list below, the words in paranthesis refer to the older Greek descriptions:

Fire (choleric) – strong willed, impatient, reactive

Earth (melancholic) – deliberate, analytic, patient, reserved

Air (sanguine) – cheerful, extroverted, even-tempered

Water (phlegmatic) – receptive, resistant, self-contented

Looking at the above list (which is by no means exhaustive), we can see that a person who is primarily choleric may have inherent communication problems with someone who is melancholic. When impatience meets deliberation somebody is bound to become frustrated.

Fortunately, we don’t often meet pure temperament types in the world; most people have a primary temperament and a secondary temperament. This is less confusing than it sounds. We all know people who seem to have limitless patience but then suddenly explode in anger: melancholic/choleric.

Back to astrology, the idea of temperament can play a strong role in relationships. Very often, people seek a partner who complements or balances them. Someone who is chronically impatient may very well need to be with a person who is more deliberate in their nature. To understand how these dynamics work, we look at the charts. At the end of the day, the fact is that we are all complicated individuals – why would our relationships not be complicated as well?

Katie and Tom separating? Last week’s announcement was quite a shock. But now that I’ve recovered a little bit, I thought it would be interesting to look at the chart of Ms. Holmes for some clues, some indications, and some suggestions about what might be going on and why it might be going on now. Fortunately, we have reliable birth data for the actress, a native of Toledo, Ohio.

In the past, I have written a great deal about the importance of temperament. I won’t walk through the calculations here, but the indication is choleric (Sun, Moon and Ascendant all in fire signs.) This surprised me, as the story that has been spun largely revolves around Holmes being victimized in some manner – by the machinations of Cruise, Scientology, etc. But extreme cholerics are not usually victims, they’re more victimizers and if nothing else, usually have strong wills. And to some extent this certainly seems to be true of Holmes – who, according to Wikipedia, turned down a chance to audition for the show that eventually became Dawson’s Creek because it conflicted with her appearance in a college production of “Damn Yankees”.  Instead, she submitted her audition by videotape. All of which displays a pretty high degree of fiery self-assertion.

So the temperament is choleric. What else? With the Moon in Leo (look at me!) and the Sun in Sagittarius (the hunger for experience) we can expect the ego projection to be very strong. However, even at a casual glance, what also jumps out in the chart is that nearly all the planets are below the horizon line and grouped to the east. This is highly unusual, and carries with it a suggestion of self-defensiveness and perhaps a difficulty in self-definition.

In terms of aspects, with the Moon squaring both Venus and Uranus, we can anticipate emotional (Moon) problems that have an unusual or unpredictable (Uranus) quality to them. In fact, with the Moon ruling the 12th house (self-undoing, hidden enemies) and connected so tightly to the three outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto), there’s a distinct possibility that the actress’s path is to connect with and/or struggle against larger forces, of which Scientology would provide a good example.

Above is Holmes’ chart for 2012 superimposed against her birth chart. What’s remarkable here is how much the chart for the current year reflects her birth chart, with the Ascendant, Midheaven and Mercury all returning near to their natal positions. A return to herself?

The midpoint pictures for this year (beginning Dec 18, 2011) are eloquent in regards to what we’re seeing played out on the stage of public display. Here are the keywords:

Mars/Saturn: the clash of hot and cold, action and control

Mars=Sun/Mercury: argument , quarrel, fighting

Saturn=Mars/Ascendant: the inability to develop one’s potential capabilities; a dispute, a defeat

Pluto=Uranus/Ascendant: the use of force

Uranus=Moon/Midheaven: emotional crises

Jupiter=Saturn/Neptune: tendency to be easily upset, easily depressed; weight gain or loss

There’s more, of course. In the weeks to come, we’ll return to this chart to see what else can be discovered and how it aligns with what is published in the saga of Katie and Tom.


We can find our family and our partners, our work and our worth in a chart, so how about our friends? In astrology, friends are an 11th house issue. The sign on the 11th, any planets in the 11th house and whatever planet(s) rule the 11th house all give us information about our friends, about the nature of who they are and how we relate to them. As with anything else in our lives, this is often complicated. And why shouldn’t it be? Along with our families and partners, friends are a vital part of the web of relationships that form our lives. For some people, they take the place of family in regards to being a system of support and nurturing. “Friends are my estate,” wrote Emily Dickinson, and it is a sentiment that I hear frequently from people who come for readings. Not surprisingly, people have very different needs in terms of friends. Some of us want friends who are like ourselves, others like a large variety of friends which is in contrast to those who have a small, small group of friends. How does that work in the chart? Let’s grab a look at the chart of Oprah Winfrey and see what an examination of her 11th house of friends can tell us.


With Scorpio on the cusp of the 11th house (marked with a triangle) we immediately start thinking along the lines of privacy, intensity and perhaps a need for a deep love from her friends. And that’s pretty consistent with what we know about Winfrey. With Mars (ruling Scorpio) placed in the 11th, we can expect her to dynamically (Mars) attract others through the potential for a deep connection (Scorpio). The need for love is also picked up by Saturn also in Scorpio in the 11th, though here it becomes secretive, complicated and rather fiercely protective. Finally, a trine from Venus (in independent, eccentric Aquarius) to the 11th house gives a spirit of unconventionality. Despite the rigidity of Scorpio, there’s also a delight in the unusual regarding friends, something outside the mainstream that satisfies the cravings of the Self.

In some ways, astrology is portraiture. In that respect, reading a chart is the attempt to describe the challenges, needs and potentials of a person. To get an understanding of how difficult that is, stop reading this for a moment and spend a minute thinking about how you would describe yourself in as few words as possible, say seven or eight.

Unless you’re either remarkably insightful or remarkably shallow, the exercise is a difficult one. As it’s meant to be. The task is an old one, but has an interesting presentation by the Russian spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff, who, in the 1930’s, demanded that his students tell him their “chief feature”. Quoting from “In Search of the Miraculous,” Gurdjieff states,

“Every man has a certain feature in his character which is central”.

Gurdjieff goes on to talk about how a person’s chief feature is an “axle” around which the personality revolves. It’s a fascinating notion that has reflections in the astrological chart. Temperament, which I’ve discussed in past newsletters, carries a little bit of the idea of this quality, with cholerics and sanguines essentially moving toward the world, and melancholics and phlegmatics moving away from the world. But this is only one distinction among many in a chart, so the question remains: how does one find the chief feature, the axle in Gurdjieff’s words around which the persona revolves?

The first candidates are, of course, the Ascendant, the Moon and the Sun, probably in that order. Why do I place the Ascendant and the Moon first? The degree of the Ascendant changes every four minutes during the day while the Moon moves approximately 12 degrees per day, making both of these points the fastest moving in the chart. In contrast the Sun moves a degree per day, taking a month to work through a sign. As a practicing astrologer I can guarantee that these speeds make an enormous difference. A person with Leo rising and Moon in Pisces is very different from one who is Leo rising and Moon in Aries. Both of these placements are possible for two individuals born on the same day.

For right now, let’s look at some meanings of the Ascendant – also called the rising sign – to gather and consider some possible words that can be used in describing ourselves. To provide a little more room for thought, I’ll add both the positive and negative expressions for each.

Aries – positive: self-assertion, enthusiasm, the direct approach; negative: hurried, inconsiderate, conceit

Taurus – positive: building and maintaining a secure structure; negative: greed, stubbornness, a ponderous approach to the world

Gemini – positive: flexibility, communication take center stage; negative: disorganization, emotionally restless

Cancer – positive: nurturing, sensitive; negative: timid, tends to withdraw

Leo – positive: generous, optimistic, independent; negative: dislike of routine, overlooks the details

Virgo – positive: service, methodical, down-to-earth; negative: critical, inhibited, overly reliant on formalities

Libra – positive: diplomatic, able to creat harmonies; negative: indecisive, problems with self-assertion

Scorpio – positive: strong, determination, powerful insight; negative: dependent on recognition, secretive, manipulative

Sagittarius – positive: independent, generous, searching; negative: righteousness, superficiality

Capricorn – positive: practical, disciplined, patient; negative: mistrusting, joyless, cold

Aquarius – positive: original, imaginative, broad perspective; negative: overly detached, misses emotional clues

Pisces – positive: flexibility, adaptive, versatile; negative: boundaries, difficulty with self-assertion and goals

With the untimely passing of Donna Summer, I thought it would be interesting to bring up her chart and take a quick look at what we could find in this talented artist. And it jumps very quickly: hard work.

When you examine the chart, the first thing that jumps out is FIVE planets – Sun, Moon, Mercury, Mars & Jupiter – in the 5th house of creativity. So it’s a given that there’s going to be an abundance of creativity, but how will it manifest? With Capricorn, an earth sign, on the 5th house, we can expect that this will be an individual who is tireless is their work and their focus. Mercury, which rules both the Ascendant and the Midheaven (career) is strong-voiced in Capricorn, and well supported by all those planets around it.

In addition, both the Sun and Jupiter form strong supportive aspects to the Ascendant, and to Saturn, which is placed there. Once again, we see an enormous amount of concentration and power. Finally, as if the chart is not loaded enough, we find both the Moon and Mercury to be in extreme declination. When we see such personal planets “out-of-bounds” we can expect a high degree of expression, a yearning to break barriers or to reach extremes.

But what about the deep element of fantasy that pervaded her onstage persona? In the chart, we find the Sun, Mercury and Jupiter all connected to Neptune, planet of illusion. With Neptune at the midpoint between Sun and Mercury as well as Mercury and Jupiter, we get keyword pictures such as beguiling fantasy, illusion, and imagination.

What’s interesting about Summer is that while she could not maintain the huge degree of popularity that she achieved in the 70’s, she never stopped working, which is not surprising given her strong Capricorn placements. And while she worked, there was a sense of humility and common sense – both very earthy qualities – that never deserted her. As she said at one time, “I don’t keep a press agent because I think people need to have a break from me.”

“People are too complicated to take seriously.”

~ Overheard

(photo from the insanely entertaining site: