by Steven Forrest
Throughout the centuries, many people have been brought to their knees by addictions of various sorts. Many of them have found healing in twelve step programs based on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous. As most of us know, these programs of recovery are not limited to alcohol issues. They have spun off similar programs for drug dependencies. With only a few modifications, there are also twelve step programs for food addiction, sexual addiction, and codependent behavior. In a similar vein, there are the ancillary programs called Al-Anon and Alateen for people who have been in intimate involvements with friends, lovers, or family members who have suffered from such addictions. Those programs are based on the same twelve steps too.
No surprise: many people engaged in recovery have also turned to astrological counsel for support. Over the years, many such souls have found their way to my office. As a group, they are impressive. I have learned a lot from them. To overcome a disease such as alcoholism requires two virtues in abundance: first, courage – and, second, enough humility to recognize and admit the existence of the problem.
Inevitably, as an astrologer, I’ve often wondered about why there are twelves steps, not ten, or some other round number. Could there be some interlock between astrology and these life-saving systems? At one level, I’m confident simply saying “of course there is a connection.” No one needs to believe in astrology for it to work. Twelve is an organic, magic number, woven into all archetypal processes, not just astrology. That’s enough evidence for me right there.
Without too much of a stretch, one might say that astrology itself is the original twelve step program. But there is more evidence for such a connection, even though some of it is impressionistic and circumstantial.
The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, knew Carl Gustav Jung and had a long correspondence with him. That is a matter of record. Jung was, among other things, an astrologer as well as a student of metaphysical traditions in general. Jung had also worked with many active alcoholics in his clinical practice. He was generally not very optimistic about their prospects. He felt that the only hope for such a person lay in some kind of spiritual conversion or enlightenment experience – something he felt to be quite rare. Jung wrote to Bill Wilson that he felt that sobriety could only be achieved through “a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism"—through an enlightenment or conversion experience, in other words. He added that, it might also occur through “an act of grace or through personal and honest contact with friends.”
Later, Wilson wrote to Jung that “this candid and humble statement of yours was beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which our Society has since been built.”
Jung knew astrology. Wilson thanked Jung for “laying the foundation stone” of AA. Astrology and Alcoholics Anonymous are both “spiritual programs” in some sense. Both involve a staged evolution through twelve sequenced processes . . . clues, clues, clues. What would Sherlock Holmes think? I believe Sherlock would say, “hmmm . . .” and go on to look for more evidence.
A scholar or a historian might turn over more stones by carefully perusing the letters that passed between Wilson and Jung. I haven’t done much of that beyond a bit of Google searching. But if Sherlock Holmes turned to me looking for suggestions, I would direct him right to the heart of Bill Wilson’s whole system of recovery, which is the twelve steps themselves. To me, the fingerprints of astrology are all over them. They uncannily and unerringly mirror the evolutionary logic of the twelve houses.
Anyone familiar with what I have published about the astrological houses over the years will immediately make a lot of multi-dimensional connections here between the twelve houses and the twelve steps. That all goes far beyond what I can cover in a couple thousand words. In this brief newsletter, I just want to point out, one by one, a few highlights that directly and rather obviously link Wilson’s twelve steps to the evolutionary processes implicit in the twelve houses. Did astrology inspire him? Or did he just tune in to one of the universe’s most basic laws? I have no idea . . .
Step #1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
When activated by heavy transits or progressions, the first house is always ultimately about reaching one of life’s major crossroads. We are required to make a decision, often without full information – and invariably without any certainty about how things will turn out. It is about the right use of Will – which is to say, Will guided by intuition, honesty, and common sense. It is about making a stand, turning a corner, and not looking back.
Step #2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
“Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?” That sense of suddenly finding ourselves on shaky ground is a classic second house sentiment. We have made a new start – on faith alone – in the first house. Now we start to get scared. Do we have what it takes to succeed? And actually the answer is no – unless we quickly seek the right resources to empower us. Astrologically, might that mean money? Education? Alliances? Or in the case of the twelve steps, “the Higher Power.” That is the resource that we need. Only with God’s help can we possibly succeed – and God’s help is available for the asking.
Step #3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The third house is cognitive and mental; it has to do with how we look at everything – and how everyone else “looks at things” differently than we do. Inevitably, this leads to a confusion of contradictory data. All we can ever do is continue our inquiries and strive to deepen our understanding. We are sustained by a spirit of faith that there is an answer “out there” somewhere. In the third step, we literally make a mental commitment – a decision. And we come to our best individual, independent understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it.
A footnote: In the 1930s when the twelve steps first appeared “God” was still a “Him.” That language is now dated; hopefully we can all get past that quibble.
Step #4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
The fourth house is the “midnight house.” It is where psychology happens, where we face those “all alone at 3:00 o’clock in the morning” kinds of truths about our lives. When it is stimulated, it is time for a long, hard talk with ourselves – time to take our “moral inventory” in a spirit of naked humility. We try to stand naked before the mirror of truth – a mirror that is ultimately the reality of the life that we have lived, as seen without any self-serving varnish or comforting rationalizations.
Step #5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
In the fifth house, we express ourselves. It is about honest self-revelation. We put the truth on the table in a form in which others can see it. Astrologically, the fifth house is related to creativity – and if you have ever sung in front of a group or made a public speech, you know about those butterflies in the belly that come from putting yourself out there with that kind of vulnerability. In the fifth step, we partake of a most ancient human sacrament of recovery: we make our confession. For it to count, there has to be an “audience” of at least one other person.
Step #6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Astrologically, “servants” is word often associated with the sixth house, and to be “a servant” is to be in a humble position. A servant serves a master, and implicit in that relationship is the comparison of foolishness with wisdom, naivete with experience, the flawed with the perfect. The sixth step is about humility and preparing to surrender – and the acknowledgment that there is indeed a Higher Power in the universe willing to help us in miraculous ways, if only we submit to it. That humble submission is the price we must pay.
Step #7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
In mainstream astrology, the seventh house is often called “the house of marriage.” More accurately, it refers to all sorts of intimate, interdependent relationships. In the seventh step, we see the establishment of an intimate bond based on vulnerability and acknowledged need – except that now this intimacy is not about relating to another person, but rather about our personal relationship with the Higher Power. The simplest human analogy would be asking someone whom you love for a hug at a time when you are having difficulty loving yourself – except that now we make that same intimate request of God.
Step #8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Astrologically, in the eighth house we see the deepest, most psychologically intimate kinds of relationships. Long-term couples are the best illustration, although a dear friend “with whom you can talk about anything” illustrates the eighth house transaction too. Such connections can sometimes feel almost claustrophobic. People experiencing that kind of intimacy with each other inevitably wind up revealing their most wounded places. That self-revelation may happen intentionally – but so often it happens indirectly, via our own hurtful behavior toward each other. At such a moment, all you can do is to apologize. If you have ever looked a loved one in the eye and abjectly pleaded, “I am sorry. Can you ever forgive me? . . . you understand the eighth step. Note that this step is private and internal. It is about “making a list” and “becoming willing to make amends,” not about actually doing it out loud. That step comes next.
Step #9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Classically, the ninth house is about Religion and Law. Those words still work if we let them breathe a bit. All religions deal with questions of right and wrong, and how to behave ourselves in a complicated, ambiguous world. Law typically spells out the details – so the Biblical “do not kill” resolves legally into manslaughter, justifiable homicide, and Murder One. In the ninth step, we take what we have admitted to ourselves in the eighth step – or eighth house – and try to make things as right with those whom we have offended as we possibly can, while avoiding making a bad situation worse. Here is the question: how do we best behave ourselves today in a world that we have already complicated, perhaps irredeemably, in the past? Right and wrong are slippery concepts, and sometimes the best we can do is to find a middle road..
Step #10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
In conventional astrology, the tenth house is related to career – which on the face of it, doesn’t seem to have much to do with the tenth step. In modern society, “career” says a lot about how other people see us and categorize us – or more broadly, it is about how we reveal ourselves to the world at large. Similarly, the tenth step is about not hiding anything; it is about authenticity in terms of how we look to the world. It is about an ongoing “public” commitment to moral transparency. It is not exactly about “never having any secrets,” but more specifically, about never using secrecy as a defense for the ego nor as a way of staying stuck in the past. The tenth step saves us from the dangers of the fallacious notion of one single “conversion experience” that means our work on ourselves is now complete and we can forget about it. That lazy, tempting idea is replaced with “continuing” to take moral inventory.
Step #11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
In the eleventh step, we set goals for ourselves and commit to pursuing them over time. We take the long view. Similarly, in the broader framework of astrology, the eleventh house relates generally to all of our hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the future. It relates to what we prioritize in life. Here, in this step, we commit specifically to a strategy of spiritual self-improvement over time Astrologically, there is also a link between the eleventh house and our strategic alliances. That notion is (surprisingly) missing in the wording of the eleventh step, but it is certainly implicit in the whole idea of committing to long-term membership in a healing fellowship.
Step #12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Astrologically, the twelfth house is, at its best, mystical and spiritual. The reference in the twelfth step to a spiritual awakening certainly echoes that notion loudly and clearly. There is more: can we imagine any true spiritual awakening that does not include a simultaneous awakening of compassion for the suffering of other human beings? In this step, a caring engagement with the needs of others saves us from the kind of navel-gazing that characterizes more self-indulgent spiritual paths.
So what would Sherlock Holmes think? Did Bill Wilson have some kind of astrological training or insight? I think the evidence that the twelve astrological houses and the twelve steps have a common origin is compelling. Is it possible that Carl Jung conveyed this ancient metaphysical structure to Bill Wilson? Surely that is a possibility, but in and of itself, it proves nothing. Or did Bill Wilson simply plug into one of those ancient archetypal truths that is so basic to the universe that it gets discovered over and over again? That is easy to believe.
I still don’t know the answer, and I am not sure that it really matters. Either way, astrology and the twelves steps are gifts from heaven that help us navigate life in a world that can sometimes be very hard. Those addictive “exit ramps” on the spiritual path can sometimes look very tempting – and, like most exit ramps, once you have taken them, finding your way back to the highway can be difficult.
It might even take you twelve steps to find your way back.