The Stars Are Out:
Interview with an astrologer
by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of Creative
Loafing, Atlanta, May 23 & 30, 1998)
Astrology, the ancient oracular practice of consulting the sky, is making
one of its cyclical comebacks in the American imagination. Whether you
call it millennial madness or a renaissance of an authentic practice,
millions of Americans seem to have become newly captivated by astrology.
This week, Atlanta is hosting the global conference on the subject. The
United Astrology Congress convenes here, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Wednesday,
May 20, through Wednesday, May 27. Auxiliary sessions are held on the
20th and 27th, with official events scheduled May 21-25. Call 1-500-288-1998
for information or consult the conference website. Basic cost of the conference,
without the auxiliary sessions, is $377, but day passes may be purchased
for $125 or $70.
The conference features workshops and talks by 100 of the world's most
famous astrologers. The keynote address will be delivered by author Thomas
Moore at 8 p.m. Thursday (and it may be attended separately for $25).
Moore is author of the best-selling Care of the Soul, Soul Mates and,
most recently, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life. But he is also the
author of the less-known The Planets Within, a fascinating examination
of the astrological psychology of Marsilio Ficino, head of the Florentine
Academy during the Renaissance.
Anyone who attempts a serious study of astrology usually finds it enormously
confusing. Thus the conference has planned a program series especially
for beginners called "Initiation to Astrology." Besides that, there are
innumerable talks on everything from psychological aspects and financial
planning to the effects of asteroids and comets and the use of computer
software. The UAC website is the best resource for actual times and topics.
As an entrée to the field, which fascinates me but about which I know
practically nothing, this week's column (and next's) features an interview
with Dale O'Brien (404-728-9609). He is a well-known Atlanta astrologer
who will be presenting several talks at the conference. Low-key and with
a heavy psychological emphasis on his work, O'Brien defies the stereotype
of either the wizardly space cadet or the evangelical pseudo-scientist.
How in the world does anyone become an astrologer?
I guess my path wasn't usual. I've been studying it for 29 years but
didn't make it my full-time career until the summer of '92. Before that
I was a federal employee, a quality assurance specialist -- land management
for the army. I have a degree in special education and psychology from
the University of Maryland, so I've also been a teacher.
Well, how did you get interested in the first place?
When I was 18, I had a girlfriend who exposed me to superficial sun-sign
astrology. At the time I was a complete rationalist and thought it was
pretty silly but interesting. When I went away to college, I studied personality
theory. I bet I found 27 different theories. With the exception of Jungian
psychology and typology, I felt most of them were like trying to squeeze
square pegs into round holes. I continued to play with astrology, though,
and found -- as I got beyond the simple stuff -- that it is remarkably
complex. It seemed to offer the most viable explanation for personality
I could find.
Was there any particular system or book that impressed you?
Oh, yes. The work of Dane Rudhyar was the main influence on me. His was
the only intelligent application of astrology I encountered early on.
In 1935 he wrote a book called The Astrology of Personality. In it, he
made the connection between synchronicity, holism and the work of C.G.
Jung. I know that Jung studied astrology in the hope that he would find
a system based on his theory of synchronicity. [Synchronicity is Jung's
theory that connects events by an acausal principle of "coincidences"
that happen too often to be actual coincidences. It is often misunderstood
to imply that what one thinks becomes manifested outside. Instead, synchronicity
refers to events whose parallel occurrence probably suggests a special
significance, if only to reveal the existence of the numinous.]
But as Jung got into it, he found that astrology operated on causal
Yes, that's what he found. You have to consider the time, the kind he
studied and so forth. There are many of us now who do not look at astrology
as a causal science in which such and such happens in the sky and you
end up doing this or that as a result. We see astrology as a system of
mysterious synchronicities. The mystery of who we are, individually and
collectively, seems to be reflected in the sky. I look at the correspondences,
not a set of causal, scientific events, although I'll grant you there
are plenty of astrologers who still work from that perspective. As above,
so below. ...
But why should this be important?
Because it really does give you a sense of who you are. Many people
do not have a sense of who they are or they are confused. There is a potential
given with birth ...
So, there's a kind of resonance with an unconscious or confusing truth
about the self? You know, out of curiosity I used one of those free Internet
services that will construct your chart and then refers you to another
site to read it. I didn't know my exact birth time but pretty close. I
was amazed -- not for the usual generally correct reading of me as a Gemini
-- but for its repeated mention of one characteristic that everyone always
notices in me but thinks is highly inconsistent with my personality. It's
my dislike for being in the public eye even though my work forces me into
it. It amazed me to see this cited as a given with my identity.
You can look at that in several ways, as a given, or it may be something
your chart indicates that needs to be worked on. I mean, obviously it
would create a problem. You see, in my view, astrology reflects the mystery
of destiny. I emphasize "mystery." It's not that we have a fixed destiny,
but we have multiple potential destinies. On the other hand, there is
a pretty clear picture of the self that emerges in a chart.
So there's nothing to predictive astrology?
I don't mean that at all. Lots of people work quite successfully with
the stock market, for example. There are several systems of astrology.
But what I am most interested in when I give a consultation is helping
a person find out who they are, what they are most capable of, so they
can make better decisions.
You said that predictive astrology is only one of two types -- that
you practice a more psychologically oriented type. Tell me more.
The manner in which you -- the client and the practitioner -- approach
astrology makes a tremendous difference in your experience of it. If you
approach it with the idea that everything is fated, that certain planets
and transits are bad or negative, that creates a completely different
output than if you start with the assumption that something positive but
mysterious wants to be manifested.
But I constantly hear that when such and such a planet is in retrograde,
everything is cursed.
Well, that's an example of how a prejudice in our culture -- to live
in a linear rather than cyclical way -- influences the way astrology is
interpreted. Astrologers, unlike astronomers, react to the way things
appear in the sky. When a planet is in retrograde, it appears to be moving
backward. This is interpreted properly as a sign that we should look back
or within. When Mercury is in retrograde, it's an indication of divergent
thinking. It's a wonderful time for creative, divergent thinking. It's
only upsetting to people who don't see divergence as an opportunity. We
really do have a bias in this culture about diverging from the linear,
forward path. ...
So when a person comes to you for a chart and interpretation, what
are they going to get?
I am not interested in telling anyone exactly who they are and what
will happen to them. I am only interested in expressing the potentialities
of the person's life. We have lost the sense of destiny -- not as a sealed
fate but as potential -- in life. For some reason we do not understand,
the skies at the moment of our birth can reveal these potentialities.
Every major culture has observed this. It's not just superstition. It's
the accrual of observations people have made for thousands of years.
What is it like when this is demonstrated to people?
A friend of mine recently wrote in Mountain Astrologer about astrology
and personal transformation. He referred to the need to embrace initiatory
experiences in our lives. I think astrology can help reveal those. That's
the thing: You have to ask whether the information being revealed by the
astrologer serves the ego or the soul. The ego invariably is going to
shrink from a challenge, even from mystery. But I think it's the nature
of the soul to embrace this.
So, if things aren't going well and you consult an astrologer, the question
you ask is, "How is this serving as an initiation?" And that can be seen
in terms of the person's entire chart, the entire range of his possibilities.
When you work with charts long enough, you really do see the reality of
the wisdom that the closing of one door means the opening of another.
I have been fascinated with Marsilio Ficiono's astrological psychology
ever since I read Thomas Moore's The Planets Within a few years
ago. Astrology really does bear a lot in common with psychology. How do
we know we aren't engaged in a pure exercise of projection, like the alchemists
were in their "opus"?
I'm not sure I can answer that. I do think astrology reveals the unconscious,
so in that sense there is projection. It's also true that astrology tends
to get interpreted according to the values of the culture. But beyond
that, as I said, there is this enormous body of knowledge that has been
developed over time. Is the body of knowledge changing in ways other than
its cultural readings? Oh yes, that's part of the reason for conferences
like the UAC. Technology makes much more observable in the skies. I mean,
the outer planets weren't visible at the time of Ficino and we have discovered
new astronomical bodies in recent years. These discoveries correspond
in some ways to the evolution of the personal and the collective.
Yes, you can make an astrological reading of everything. Everything has
a birth, a time of inception. So anything that is brought into being has
an astrological significance -- including corporations, partnerships,
So the time of birth really is important in getting a reading.
Absolutely, it is very, very important for an accurate chart.
My birth certificate from Pennsylvania doesn't include it.
There are a few states -- and Pennsylvania is the worst -- that don't
include time of birth, although it is usually recorded somewhere and can
be obtained, but it is very difficult. I feel like a man without a destiny.
We have developed ways of narrowing down the birth time but it's certainly
best if a person knows when they are born.
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