We say “astrology” as if it were one unified entity, but of course it is not. How many house systems are there? Do we use asteroids or not? What about Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto? – many traditionalists prefer to ignore them. Meanwhile, Uranian astrologers use hypothetical planets that no one has ever seen – Poseidon, Zeus and so on – and swear by them. I hear they get good results too. As an evolutionary astrologer, much of what I say revolves around the south node of the Moon – but most commercial astrology programs do not even show its position unless you ask them to.
Even more fundamentally, is astrology about the stars or the seasons? To a Vedic astrologer, the sign Aries and the constellation Aries are the same thing – but not to a western “Tropical” astrologer, where Aries starts with the northern Vernal Equinox, which has actually drifted back into Pisces over the centuries.
To put it charitably, astrology is a “big tent.” To put it more pointedly, the many different branches of astrology contradict each other in fundamental ways. Inevitably, this reality leads to the question of which form of astrology is “the right one” – and there begins a slippery slope.
“Nice” astrologers tend to take a tolerant, supportive attitude toward each other, while the “mean” ones spend a lot of time either attacking other systems directly, or doing so indirectly by saying “my astrology is best.”
I mentioned Uranian astrology a moment ago. I know very little about it, so I had to Google it in order to get my references to “Poseidon” and “Zeus” right. The first website to which my Google Search brought me opened with the words, “The Uranian system of astrology is really our most advanced and evolved system of astrology to date.”
I really aspire to being one of those “nice” astrologers, but obviously the person who wrote those words has it all wrong – anyone can see that MY style of astrology is actually “the most advanced and evolved system of astrology to date.” I am laughing of course – and please laugh too. But, in truth, I have never met an astrologer who knowingly practiced the “second best” kind of astrology he or she had ever found.
Bottom line, the contemporary world of astrology is a chaos of diversity. We are like the biblical “Tower of Babel,” with many, mutually-incomprehensible languages spoken all at once. It is like riding a subway in New York City. The situation has grown much more complex over the last few decades, as more systems and styles have emerged and grown popular. When I was a young astrologer, we all at least had enough language in common that we could argue with each other. Nowadays, as I listen to a Hellenist or a Vedic astrologer, I often honestly feel as if I am trying to follow a conversation in Bantu. I just don’t know their words – and they would be just as confused as me were I to ask for their views on the karmic implications of Pluto transiting through a quincunx to a Leo south node in the (Placidus!) eighth house.
All of this brings me to the point of this newsletter. About twenty years ago, a young man of means in New York City decided to test the branches of astrology’s tree, and see which ones broke and which ones were strong enough to stand.
The young man’s name is Rafael Nasser, and he is not quite so young anymore. His friends call him Rafi. He is alive and well and living in Connecticut. As Rafael dived into the maelstrom of our field even back then, he said, “I was encountering too many overly self-assured experts making extravagant claims.” He added, “Increasingly, I heard astrologers vaunt their particular system as The System.” (Those were the “mean” astrologers.) Tellingly, Rafi also observed the well-intended – but unwittingly deleterious – effects of the “nice” astrologers. He wrote, “At the other end of the spectrum, I was encountering astrologers who indiscriminately accepted far-flung astrological claims notwithstanding their irreconcilable underpinnings.”
In his own words, Rafael Nasser had “stumbled upon the collective shadow of astrology.” What was it that we were afraid to look at? He wondered, “how far do the symbols stretch before they snap?” Being a practical, discriminating Virgo, he decided to do something actively about the situation. His inner voice gave him a command: “Gather astrologers from different traditions and they will interpret the same anonymous birthchart.”
What Rafi did was simple and elegant, not to mention generous. Twelve very different astrologers were given only the date, time, and place of a woman’s birth, along with a false first name. We had no further information about her at all. It was all pure astrology and nothing else. Rafi gave us each $1000 for our troubles and the light turned green – we were off and running, writing out an interpretation of her chart based on nothing but her birthchart in whatever fashion we wanted to set it up and our own disparate astrological techniques.
Rafael Nasser, in other words, presented us all with a classic “OK, show us what you’ve got” situation. No more boasting or posturing, just all of our playing cards face-up on the table
Meanwhile, Rafi asked the woman – who was given the pseudonym “Joyce” – to write an account of her life and a portrait of herself. That account, annotated with the dates of turning points in her life to compare with any timed predictions the astrologers might want to make, stretched out to forty pages. Each astrologer also responded to a series of technical and philosophical questions which Rafi posed. In the end, everything was bound under one cover and the result was Under One Sky.
For anyone serious about learning astrology, I cannot think of a better investment of time than reading this book. I am a “nice” astrologer – I don’t want to make anyone else wrong unless they are hurting people. But I am also practical and I do not think it is possible to practice all of these forms of astrology at once. That would be too complicated and too fraught with contradictions, both technical and philosophical. At some point, you have to choose your path. Under One Sky is a long read – the book is about 500 pages long – but it will put the serious beginner in an informed position about which style of astrology best speaks to his or her heart. That may be Rafael’s greatest gift.
Under One Sky was published originally in 2004. Some of the astrologers included in it have evolved in their orientations. At least one has passed on, but most are still practicing. Here they are, listed in alphabetical order by first name, with their speciality indicated:
- Demetra George – Asteroid-centered
- Evelyn Roberts – Archetypal
- Gary Christen - Uranian
- Hadley Fitzgerald - Psychological
- John Marchesella – Modern Western
- Ken Bowser – Western Sidereal
- Kim Rogers-Gallagher – Light-hearted
- Robert Hand – Medieval
- Robert Schmidt – Hellenistic
- Ronnie Gale Dreyer – Vedic
- Steven Forrest – Evolutionary
- Wendy Z. Ashley – Mythological
For the record, I know that there is potential an “appearance of impropriety” in that my own Seven Paws Press wound up publishing Under One Sky. Was I in cahoots with Rafi Nasser, with him slipping me the inside scoop about “Joyce?” That unfortunate appearance was perhaps exaggerated when DELL HOROSCOPE reviewed the book, and included this passage: “Readers will come to their own conclusions about which astrologer was most on target, but for me, the clearest, most consistently accurate statements were given by Steven Forrest. He places great weight on the position and standing of the south node in the natal horoscope, and from this was able to see her professional direction, her periodic disasters, and her self-proclaimed path toward personal growth.”
Here is what actually happened. Rafael Nasser has a Venezuelan cousin for whom I did some business-oriented astrological consulting many years ago. Through him, I met Rafi. I am guessing that our first encounter probably happened in 1992 or so in Manhattan. When Rafi started talking about his Under One Sky project, he consulted me about suggestions for respected astrologers of various persuasions whom he might contact. I helped him out that way, pointing out two or three of the people who ultimately wound up in the book. Rafi’s intention – and my assumption – was that he would find an existing astrological publisher. When he hit a brick wall in that search, he turned to me and my then-wife, Jodie Forrest, as a last resort. So we published the book ourselves, with Jodie as the editor.
I did not see Joyce’s biography until a year or two after I had written my interpretation of her chart, nor did anyone else involved in the project except for Rafael Nasser himself.
While I am at it, there is another concern that I would like to address. Many astrologers would refuse to do a “blind” reading at all, instead feeling that for astrology to work, there must be a trusting conversation between client and astrologer. That is naturally a legitimate position for a counseling astrologer. I think it is certainly fair to say that the vast majority of us would prefer it that way – obviously, there is much that we cannot see in a chart that is quite relevant to any practical reading of it: the client’s relationship status, professional situation, gender orientation, and so on. My attitude is along those same lines – that there is an obvious place for conversation and an exchange of information in the astrological counseling room – but with one important divergence. I never assume that my clients should trust me with any private information of that nature; instead I assume that it is my job to earn their trust. If someone wants to come sit with me, fold his or her arms, and just say “show me what you’ve got,” I trust the symbols enough to accept that challenge.
The question of whether or not “astrology can work blind” is what Rafael Nasser tested in Under One Sky. No astrologer was forced to participate, of course. For the sake of proving that astrology can actually stand on its own two feet, they all volunteered for that challenge. In Rafi’s own words, “One memorable reaction was expressed by an older astrologer who was horrified by the premise of a blind reading as a means of validating astrology. He said, “You’re going to make astrology look bad.” Rafi added, “His fear inspired the project. My intention was not to make astrology look bad, but to raise a mirror to the face of astrology and take a serious look at the image staring back. The project was prompted by the Plutonian impulse to invite the reader into the shadow of astrology – blind readings apparently invoke the greatest fear – and to turn on the light.”
The healing power of astrology is certainly enhanced if we have personal knowledge of our clients. But I personally believe that astrology is powerful enough to speak meaningfully to anyone, and to do so based purely on knowledge of that person’s date, place, and time of birth.
After the project was complete, Rafael Nasser elected not to write a conclusion which awarded any “Best in Show” prizes. That was probably wise. Suffice to say, some astrologers did better than others. There is always something subjective about such judgements anyway. When I watch the Olympics, I can see why someone wins the Gold Medal in the 100-meter dash – they got to the ribbon first, end of story. But I have never been comfortable with awarding medals for figure skating, for one example – many of those skaters look lovely to me, and I can see that beyond their physical skill, each one has also made many purely aesthetic decisions. What is beautiful to one person might be less so to another – and giving anyone the Gold Medal in such categories always strikes me as being just false as any other subjective “Top Ten” list.
If you read Under One Sky, you will come to your own conclusions. More importantly, if you are new to our field, you will be in a much clearer position when it comes to cutting through all the “my astrology is better than your astrology” posturing and chest-thumping. You will see the direction in which you want to travel illuminated – and that is perhaps Rafi’s major gift to us.
Contemporary astrology is a huge buffet. Under One Sky is like a chalkboard menu up on the wall. Everything on it might look delicious, but your tummy is only so big.
What are you having?
Listen to the podcast version of the newsletter here.
$29.99 (print) $9.99 (Kindle) Order from:
Barnes and Nobel (print) | Amazon (print)**
Amazon Kindle | Forrest Astrology (print) *
*Your print order from Forrest Astrology does not include a digital copy.
**Please note that books are not shipping quickly right now due to the pandemic. Orders placed through our site may take over two weeks to ship due to current production restrictions. Orders from Amazon are also taking much longer according to reports. Barnes and Noble is currently shipping the fastest.