by Steven Forrest
Originally published in The Mountain Astrologer and republished with permission.
I am often asked to comment on the old "fate versus free-will debate." My short answer is a very emphatic focus on personal responsibility, creativity, and choice. Here's the long answer.
A FOOL’S JAMBOREE
Free Will? Fate? As an astrologer, you’re currently under pressure to choose your weapons. Which side are you on?
Analogies: Are you a tax-and-spend Liberal or a stodgy old Conservative? Pick ONE. Do you absolutely LOVE mayonnaise or do you wake up at four in the morning passionately HATING it? Silly questions, huh?
The endless "fate versus free-will" debate is equally foolish, and therefore fills foolish people with great enthusiasm. Both principles have validity; both are relevant to what actually happens in our lives.
We all get old, or die first. Start out short, wind up taller. Generally get rounder, wiser, blinder, deafer. Wind up dead. It's all predictable. Astrology can add details — Mercury conjunct your midheaven? Fate will draw you to some kind of work or social role in which communication and data exchange are central. A brilliant novelist? Telephone sales? The town gossip? Any of the above. You choose, with your sweat, determination, and willpower. Ask any novelist. Which tells us…
Within the strictures of Fate, we make choices. Back in the New Age, there was the notion that "we create reality with our thoughts." While it was a useful principle in many ways, silly extremes clung to it like papparazzi to a fallen-from- grace movie idol. In my books and lectures, I always felt like such a curmudgeon pointing out that no amount of creative visualization was going to turn the majority of us into Centers for the Chicago Bulls or supermodels. But we do make choices, and our choices have marked power in shaping our lives. We all periodically, and at astrologically-predictable times, face existential crossroads. There, actively or passively, we select a path that forever defines and delimits our biographies. Shall I marry this person? Shall I move to Wyoming? Shall I go back to school?
BUT THE ANSWER IS ALREADY THERE IN THE CHART…
So say the radical determinists, whose voices and philosophies run through much of the ancient astrology that is currently being recovered. Manilius, an astrologer from the first century A.D., wrote, "The fates rule the world and all things are established by settled law." And later: "No one can renounce what he is given, or possess what he is not given, nor can he grasp by his prayers the fortunes denied him or escape that which presses on him: each must bear his own lot."
This is the quintessential Stoic philosophy which pervaded the intellectual atmosphere during a large chunk of the classical period. Is it wrong? Certainly it's demonstrable that an appalling amount of detail about our lives is actually there in the birthchart. Furthermore, our capacity to resolve and articulate that detail is being rapidly extended by the work that the current Neo-classical astrologers are doing…and bless them all, from my friend Rob Hand on down the line. Rob says, "Never confuse free will with bad technique." It's a good point and well made, but like most one-liners it's high in emotional octane. We need to avoid lighting the match of "taking sides" anywhere near it, or we're back to the Fool's Jamboree: silly, dead-end "fate versus free will" debates that smack of philosophical arguments in junior high school or fourteenth century scholastic theology.
The real truth, I think, lies at the interstice of the two perspectives, at that ever-shifting, liminal point of paradox: freedom weaves through fate like blood vessels weave among your bones.
SO WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Easy. My clients'. Anyone who's really gotten the elemental message of astrology is a great respecter of human individuality. We're a delightfully varied bunch of creatures, each with our own talents, psychospiritual predicaments, and weird failures. I'm no exception. I'm reasonably bright and I read widely, but by modern standards I'm not particularly educated — or educable — in the formal sense. My skills lie more in the human, creative, and intuitive realms, and I sense now very clearly that it was my Fate (although I prefer to use the word "Destiny") to become a counseling astrologer. My interest right from the beginning has been the way astrological medicine collides with the consciousness of bright, openminded, astrologically-naive people. The format of my explorations has always been the same: an astrological chart, a couple of chairs, and two hours or so. That's been my blank canvas, and I've painted it I guess fifteen thousand times by now. The requirements of that daily format have inclined me toward the punch that comes from simplicity, the grasping of essentials, and clarity of presentation. It's not that tiny gee-whiz astrological details bore me; it's that they're not very useful when I have two hours with a client. And I'm client-driven, not theory-driven.
FATE VERSUS DESTINY
In the dictionary the two words are not far apart in meaning, but they certainly carry a different emotional resonance. Destiny sounds much more inspiring. The distinctions run deeper than verbal legerdemain such as calling old age the "golden years" — or interpreting errors of astrological judgment as evidence of a client's "free will," for that matter. Fate and Destiny are different animals, I think. Destiny is higher; it has more to do with one's potential, or dharma, or divine plan — put your money in whichever plate appeals. Destiny is something for which we must strive; Fate is what happens to us if we don't. Both are visible in the birthchart. My task with a client has always been to distinguish the two, to warn of Fate's slippery slope, and to encourage the realization of Destiny. Clearly, such an approach is empty if I do not honor the client's capacity to choose — and correspondingly tremble at his or her capacity for lassitude, displaced rage, despair, and so on: the drearily familiar list of demons with whom humanity has been doing battle since the beginning.
SHOOTING OURSELVES IN THE FOOT
…is something at which we astrologers have excelled for many years. And of course our disenchanted, technocratic society is always eager to offer us the bullets. One local, blow-dried TV personality to another: "It's New Year's. Let find some ditzy astrologer to make some goofy predictions." I pray we don't pull the trigger this time. The stakes are too high.
WHAT I THINK IS GOING ON
…is that the old paradigms have already collapsed (ref: the Uranus-Neptune conjunction of '91-'96). A lot of people have done some deep, painful healing (Pluto in Scorpio, '83-'95) and they are ready for fresh perspectives and possibilities (Pluto in Sagittarius, '96-'08), if those new notions feel right to them. And one appetite runs through their tastes as predictably as the menu of a theme restaurant: freedom. That's Pluto in Sagittarius again, aided and abetted by Uranus and Neptune in Aquarius. An astrology that informs, enhances, and amplifies human freedom, while soberly warning it of the snares along the path, is in harmony with the current zeitgeist, while an astrology that simply and deadeningly specifies one's nature and circumstances in advance is out of kilter with the times. True or false, it will be ignored, as surely as you're already seeing less black and more bright colors out there in the fashion malls. How can it be otherwise with Pluto, Uranus, and Neptune in such notoriously freedom-loving Signs?
IT’S NOT JUST A PUBLIC RELATIONS PROBLEM EITHER
…although it's certainly that too. The neo-classical astrologers are mostly correct in saying that from a technical perspective nineteenth century Western astrology compared unfavorably with the approaches of the Greeks and Romans, not to mention the ongoing Vedic traditions. But I want to observe that something quite extraordinary has happened in Western astrology during the last six or seven decades. We have experienced a Renaissance, and like most renaissances it's been really hard to grok it from inside the process. Here's what we've accomplished: We've fused a stripped-down, streamlined, tested-essentials-only astrology with the metaphysics of perennial philosophy, the grounded wisdom of analytic psychology, and the practical helping strategies of humanistic psychotherapy. We've added an arsenal of formidable new interpretive dimensions and techniques: asteroids, midpoints, harmonics, astro-mapping, composite charts, not to mention the planet Pluto. We've jumped it all to lightspeed with modern computers. Most importantly, we've thrown off the dead-end shackles of Stoicism's radical fatalism. We've recognized that Freedom is the life-blood that runs through Fate, animating it, making us more than Newtonian billiard-balls caroming off each other into the corner pocket. And we've got a literature, a set of organizations, and an army of practitioners to prove it.
The answer is that so we astrologers would be ready for this Aquarian/Sagittarian moment in human history, I think. Humanity is ready for us and we're ready for humanity. I don't mean to sound breathless here, but why did so many astrologers incarnate in the middle of this century? To be ready for this seven- year gateway we're entering.
SO WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON, PART TWO?
Astrology's. It is absolutely imperative now that we avoid an idiotic, internecine squabble between "modern astrologers" and "neo-classicists." For one thing, it would draw too much attention away from other, unspoken issues, such as where are the twenty-somethings at our conferences? Where is the next generation of astrologers? And how, in this age of the World Wide Web, are we going to make the media push that is probably essential for the widespread acceptance of astrology? For another thing, the big world out there would yawn at our debate, if it noticed anything at all. And, in our foolishly misused freedom, a unique opportunity would have been squandered.
I've proudly supported Project Hindsight from the beginning. I don't know much about Vedic astrology, but I welcome it too. Modern Western astrology is no museum-piece to be preserved from "corrupting influences," any more than is classical astrology. Let's put them all in the pot and start stirring. In Darwinian fashion, some techniques and perspectives will prove their utility, others will fall away…or, more likely, disappear into those obscure environmental niches we call Special Interest Groups. Please forgive me, Rob Hand and all you folks burning the midnight oil over ancient texts, but my prediction is that neo-classical astrology, and all its wonderful lost tricks of the trade, will be absorbed into the emerging edifice of modern astrology, rather than the other way around. Perhaps at some long- awaited United Astrology Congress in a future incarnation, held in the spacious quarters of the world-renowned Kepler Colleger of Astrology in Seattle, we'll know the answer — although my guess is that, even with the astrology of a hundred years from now staring us in the face, a neo-classicist and I would still disagree about what had actually transpired. That astrology won't be "modern." It won't be "neo- classical." It'll be better than both, and claim both for its funky ancestors.
There's one point, however, about which I'm personally sure: in the quantum astrology of the twenty-first century, a delightful degree of unpredictability will be assumed as the birthright of each individual man and woman, just as we now recognize it to be the birthright of every subatomic particle. The price of exercising that unpredictability will be the same as it has always been: an openness to pumping energy into the mind-body-spirit system. And the joyous result: a leap to that not-so- far-away level of consciousness where each individual's future snaps into startling multidimensionality.