Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Astrology Just For Writers

Geps Morris, a writer on LinkedIn asked:
Can anyone who believes in Astrology offer any hypothesis for how it might 'work'?

I'm going to post the answer here because this does relate to writing about relationships - especially relationships across vast cultural gulfs.

To get an "alien" mindset across to human readers, you must first establish a connection between the alien and the human.

The comments posted on Amazon's page for my novel (under the Daniel R. Kerns byline) Border Dispute, show that these 2 novels demonstrate this technique - making the alien accessible to humans. Border Dispute is the sequel to Hero. Both Ace mass market paperbacks.

The method is discussed below - "the same but different."

I answered the question about Astrology on LinkedIn two ways -- a very brief answer and a very long one -- I'm posting the brief answer here first, followed by the long answer.

“I don't "believe in" Astrology -- I just use it, as I use Science without "believing in" it.

The topic is very hard to summarize because understanding what Astrology is and how it works requires a totally different model of the universe than we usually rely on.

It's easier to understand what Astrology is not.

Two key ideas to ponder:

1) "The" future and "your own" future can not be predicted by any tool because you have Free Will. So does everyone else. What can be predicted with very good certainty is that you won't use your Free Will. Nor will they.

2) Astrology can tell you WHEN but not WHAT. We live inside a giant clock - the solar system. It's not an appointment book. It's a clock. It can tell you that it's 2PM in your Life -- it can't tell you that you have an appointment with the Dentist at 2PM or that you'll have to have all your teeth extracted because you didn't brush and floss enough when it was 10AM in your Life.

An Astrological Natal Chart is a flash photograph of the moment your Soul became bound to your Body. The Soul chooses that moment as best it can, according to what the Soul seeks to master or address in this Life.

The starting moment of a life or a sequence of events (such as a novel plot) has coded into it all kinds of challenges and opportunities that will unfold in a specified order.

But these aren't specific events -- they are categories of raw materials available for shaping by Free Will into the events which become the story of your life.

You don't have a "destiny" -- you have a Microsoft Dropdown Menu Bar where some choices are grayed out.

I talk a lot about how a writer can use Tarot, Astrology in my review column which is printed in the paper magazine, The Monthly Aspectarian, then posted to their website (lightworks.com ) then archived here. It's been monthly since 1993.

On Amazon you will find the first in a five book series on the Tarot, Never Cross a Palm With Silver .

Two more volumes in that series, Swords and Pentacles, have been posted a chapter at a time on Tuesdays the last half of last year where I co-blog with 6 other writers.

To find the 20 posts on Swords and Pentacles, search the blog on Tuesday or Tarot, or Swords, Pentacles. There are several newsletters or discussion Lists where the announcement of publication of all volumes will be carried. They are available on http://www.simegen.com/archives/ -- Newsletter-L -- Lifeforce-l -- Rereadable-l

As noted on the first page of this section, Tarot and Astrology are really one topic. To learn Tarot, study Astrology. To learn Astrology, study Tarot. They are inextricably intertwined because one deals with the Soul's choices the other with the Body's opportunities.

As learning a language teaches you about another culture, learning these mathematically based tools teaches you about another universe structure. (yes, Tarot is Mathematically based)

Most people don't know they have a view of the universe, a philosophy. It's a shock to discover one hiding inside you. Finding out what is in your philosophy can be a shattering epiphany, even deranging.

Thus this study is not for everyone. Read Never Cross a Palm With Silver for how to discover whether you really want to know any of this -- or not. It's a very short book.”


Here's the long version of the answer.

The truth is nobody knows how any of this esoteric stuff works.

Astrology and Tarot are both empirical sciences. Way back when "science" was invented (Ancient Greece; Aristotle; fast-forward to Bacon in England), humanity discovered we got much faster and easier, better and more profitable results from science than from magic. So magic was abandoned.

Magic just never got any research grants, government programs, PH.D. thesis writers, or Pharmaceutical Company investments.

So nobody really knows how Magic does what it does. Worse yet, nobody really knows whether Magic actually does anything -- because it hasn't been researched properly.

Not understanding the square root of minus 1 does not keep people from turning on the lights with a switch. Not understanding how Astrology works doesn't keep people from using it to shed light on a murky topic either.

Understanding "how" astrology works requires developing a theory of "what" astrology is.

Where did astrology come from? It came from crude empirical observations of coincidences between what was visible in the heavens and what happened on Earth. The lore accumulated generation after generation.

Today, these observations of mere coincidence are codified with computers which do the number crunching ever so much faster. And research has revealed many new mathematical tools with which to compare what is happening in the heavens with what is happening to a particular person. What's happening in the heavens is as predictable as clockwork. What's happening to a person is not.

Thus we have ways to understand what is happening to a person who is battling through a series of challenges no science can delineate or comprehend. We can look at what happened to other people "like" this person "when" certain indicators appear in the heavens.

Astrology is being turned into a "real" science by the data handling of computers -- but it hasn't happened yet. So we can talk here about how this compendium of accumulated historical observation called Astrology can be used by a fiction writer.

Astrology is really a branch of psychology. Every writer has to delve into psychology at least to the point where an understanding of human behavior -- of MOTIVATION -- can be articulated.

Character depth, Relationships and motivations are the pure substance of story. In conflicting motivations, writers find their richest material.

But it isn't enough to have your own view of what motivates people. You have to develop an awareness of what "readers" think motivates people, and then explain your view to the readers in terms of their own concept of motivation.

You have to translate your own understanding of what motivates real people into what motivates your characters so that you can write the the characters in a way readers will understand and thus believe. So you need a language in common with your readers. And you need to know more about human motivation than your readers do.

A wide and deep study of all the schools of psychology can produce that kind of understanding in a writer. A brutal education in the school of hard knocks can do it too.

Easier and faster - especially for the mathematically inclined - is to get a good astrology program (such as WinStar from Matrix Software which is the one I use also favored by Noel Tyl.) And start doing charts for people you know, using interpretive books to puzzle it all out. I recommend the "Planets In" series of interpretive books and all the books by Grant Lewi.

The world tends to use Astrology and Tarot to try to predict the future. Individuals want to know what is going to HAPPEN TO THEM, or how to achieve specific goals.

The anxiety that drives people to Astrology is often most deeply rooted in a frantic need to connect with themselves -- to experience their own uniqueness.

People want to know their OWN future. Is it right to marry this person? Should I get a divorce? What will happen if I quit my job now? Do I have to go back to school? When will my mother die? Why does everyone hate me? How can I ditch this loser!

People want to know what makes them so different from everyone else. They want specifics about who they are and how to subdue the world around them.

That screaming anxiety, the need to know the future, is the exact moment a writer has to capture in a story's main character. X-ray that moment of screaming anxiety for what drives a person to that moment, what they do to resolve that anxiety, and how all the loose pieces of the person's world then fall into a pattern which reveals the meaning of that person's life and you reveal your theme -- what the story says about the meaning of Life.

The story character's "story" begins with the drive toward that moment, climaxes at the action taken by the character because of the anxiety, and concludes with the resolution of the character's need to know.

That anxiety will drive a real person to an astrologer. And some astrologers are good enough psychologists that they can counsel such a frantic individual.

But that counsel does not originate in the compendium of Ancient Wisdom called Astrology.

Astrology can not tell anyone about their individuality. It can't describe unique individuality. It can't describe HOW YOU ARE DIFFERENT from everyone else.

Astrology can tell you how you are JUST EXACTLY LIKE every other human who has ever walked this planet. (and maybe some other planets too).

Astrology has amassed data about millions of people, and crunched that data down into trends, generalizations, categories of behavior, areas of interest, times of challenge and times of rest -- times of building and times of disintegrating.

Astrology is a lot like actuarial statistics. We know the average lifespan is about 74 years -- but that doesn't tell you how long you will live.

Astrology is statistics distilled to a pure essence over more than a thousand years of record keeping. (OK on crumbling parchment, hand calculated, but it's amazing what humans can do with pen and paper!)

The secret to powerful fiction writing is vivid, individual, quirky, unique characters. But astrology is not about individuality. So what good is Astrology to a writer?

With a sound understanding of Astrology, a writer can craft a unique character who can be understood by, recognized by, the reader as someone they know -- because whether they know anything about astrology or not, every single breathing human being understands astrology intuitively.

We all recognize the life Passages. At 7 years old, kids become very self-directed individualistic people. At 14 - they know it all. At 21 they're gone off into the world, have the world by the tail and nothing can deter them from their folly. Ah, but at 28-29, all the chickens come home to roost for better or ill.

What is that 7 year cycle? It's the quartering of the natal chart by Saturn. The age of 28-29 is the most visible, most shared of all challenges -- people recognize the time between turning 27 and turning 30 as a big cliff. The 31 year old looks back over a chasm at the 25 year old and sees a child.

Every one of the 10 cyclical objects Astrology tracks (SUN, MOON, MERCURY, VENUS, MARS, JUPITER, SATURN, URANUS, NEPTUNE, PLUTO) has a periodicity that is recognizable like that. In addition to making aspects to their own birth position, all these objects make aspects to each other creating "cross terms" in the equation that is a Life.

As in an engineer's force diagram, two forces operating on an object at an angle produce a third -- a "resultant" -- and the force will move the object along the resultant path.

So the "aspects" that one of these 10 celestial objects make with a Natal Chart work like that - producing a "resultant" effect.

When you think about it like that, you see how complicated it can be to discern what a given moment in a given person's (or character's) life might be like. The moment in a life is an amalgam of 10 or more major forces. Once it's amalgamated, it's very hard to separate out the individual effects.

But with all the millions of lifetimes astrologers have documented, broad categories of "resultants" have been identified and named.

Certain celestial conditions are reliably associated (empirically) with certain kinds of human challenges or results. Grant Lewi's books HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT and ASTROLOGY FOR THE MILLIONS synthesize combinations of effects with cycles to show you how to discern how combinations will work in real life.

You don't have to learn astrology to see these associations. You already know them because you've seen them operating in lives around you -- or even on the 6 O'clock News.

Recently, Noel Tyl identified a complicated Natal Chart formation type that results in the life pattern you have seen again and again in the Rich and Famous. He calls it extreme Prominence.

See his book Synthesis and Counselling in Astrology, the Professional Manual (but this is NOT suitable for beginners, trust me!).

So the question comes down to how can it be that life-patterns are so common, so repetitive, that even people who don't know astrology can identify those patterns?

The superstitious are likely to assume that because a certain aspect and transit combination always results in a certain type of life-incident (car accidents, for example) - the transit CAUSES the incident.

But science teaches us that the mere coupling of events in time does not indicate a cause-effect relationship between them.

To muddy the picture further, in astrology, the CAUSE can PRECEDE the EFFECT. (this is referred to as the "orb of influence" -- a symbolism can materialize any time plus or minus 6 months of the zone of highest probability).

-------------------END PART ONE------------------

More on how a writer can apply these ideas to creating characters next time I post.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. This site is a great source for SFR craft ideas/info and in my next post I'm providing some linkage here.

    Thanks so much for all of your hard work, ladies--it makes my endeavor feel effortless.

  2. There is some evidence from studies done in Northern Europe that the number of hours of daylight a woman is exposed to while pregnant might have something to to with personality traits in her children. I read not too long ago about an researcher looking for existing studies from both sides of the equator that could be data mined to see if this holds out when put to the test world wide.

    I would also thing that variation in diet from summer to winter, even in cultures were seasonal starvation isn't an issue, might have some influence a baby's developing brain.

    How brain chemistry makes personality, and what is Nature and what is Nurture is not understood in detail yet. Still, this theory seems to be a better way to explain why people born at the same time of year might have similar personality traits pop up than the positions of the planets, in their natal charts.

  3. mfitz:

    Ah, but the point of this article is that it doesn't matter to a WRITER how this stuff works. Your research is FASCINATING and could easily be used to contrast Terrans with Aliens in philosophy.

    Or what about aliens who were "born" on earth?

    It's very useful and very intersting but not relevant to what a writer can get out of studying astrology.

    Yes, a writer can get the same thing out of many MANY other studies -- but for some people's minds, Astrology is a shortcut. For others, it's blithering nonsense.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg