Most of us find ourselves glancing at the horoscope columns. All of us know our birth sign. Some of us have a bit of the jargon to go with the sign – I’m a Leo so I need to have everything my own way. My boyfriend was a Scorpio, so we had great sex but he lied all time. Like you, I found myself wondering if there was any ‘truth’ in astrology, and for once the inverted commas are necessary, because astrological truth is neither a fact nor a fiction, but a potent combination of both.
Yes, I know that’s just the sort of sentence that irritates those who believe that the whole thing is a load of mumbo-jumbo, but the only way to talk about astrology is on its own terms. It is not a placebo; its effectiveness is not all in the mind, but neither is it a medicine; it can’t be laboratory tested, labelled and proven. It is a healing art – an art of self-understanding, but it is far removed from the modern western model of doctor or therapist and patient. It is a working model of the individual – a model that shows what is, what has been, and what might be. Its purpose is not predictive, rather, it is a multiple of possibilities.
At least, that’s what I found when I began to study it.
A series of twists and turns led me to Henri Llewelyn Davies. When I met her she was astrologer to TV Times, and I was looking for someone to teach me how to draw up a birth chart for a novel I was planning to write. I was anxious not to end up with some flannelling old mystic called Doris, calling me ‘dear’ and chatting about past lives, and I didn’t want a New Age Shakti making me sit cross-legged while she tuned in to my charkas.
Henri is Oxford educated and comes from a posh family with no history of astral visits. It’s true that her father was for a time in the Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s most married man, and her grandfather was one of Peter Pan JM Barrie’s Lost Boys, but despite the romantic background she is utterly practical – and entertaining, about her work. ‘I realised I was psychic when I always knew what time the bus would turn up. That was rather useful for our remote family house in Cornwall, but I decided I had better channel my gift through a particular discipline, so I chose astrology.’
The first thing she said to me was ‘Forget Sun Sign astrology, which means all newspaper columns, including my own.’
She explained that the sun sign, which is the birth month, gives a major emphasis in the horoscope, but it will be modified, sometimes greatly, by many other factors – such as the other nine planetary positions, their Houses, the Ascendant, the significant gaps in the chart and how the planets group themselves on the zodiac wheel.
The Ascendant is the planet just visible on the horizon line when you were born. It can only be calculated by using your time and place of birth.
It’s a vital part of the chart, because the Ascendant is the Frontman. It’s who people meet when you walk into a room. It’s first impressions, and it’s the self you use in public or with those you don’t know. It’s a gateway to the chart and the other planets, and it will tell you a lot about the kind of image you like to project.
I am a Virgo – shy, organised, introverted, but I have a Leo Ascendant, which gives me a flamboyant and showy side. When Henri looked at my chart she advised me to use less of my Leo and more of my Virgo when dealing with the press. How right she was – what I thought would be a useful extraverted self to hide behind, was often interpreted as arrogant or flash. It’s worth knowing that because the Ascendant is not our core self, we sometimes seem insincere or annoying when we rely on it. Then we go and lick our wounds and wonder why we are so tragically misunderstood.
A few years ago, when I was having a bad time in the press, I fought back by attacking. Some people would have shielded themselves, or retreated or brushed it off. I came out fighting, hiding my hurt behind fury.
There is a well-known story of me going round to writer and journalist, Nicci Gerrard, after she had thrashed me in print. I stood on her doorstep, literally roaring. This is classic Leo Rising stuff, and I was an idiot to do it, but Leo rarely thinks twice, and by then it’s too late because everyone has been eaten alive, including the poor old Virgo self, hiding behind her wayward lion.
Many of us will recognise a similar schizophrenic feeling in the gap between our public and private selves, and this feeling often correlates with a Sun or Moon sign in ‘difficult’ aspect to the Ascendant.
Aspects are just a name for the degree of angle which exists between one planet and another on the 360-degree zodiac wheel. You can have difficult aspects or easy aspects. Difficult aspects are those where there is some kind of contradiction or challenge between two or more planets and their signs. So, a shy, retiring, sun sign, like Pisces or Virgo, with a blaring party time Ascendant, like Leo or Sagittarius, might have a struggle integrating these different aspects of herself. If she can integrate them, she becomes a little bit more whole – and that is the chance of astrology – by giving us a way of thinking about the many components of our personalities, and a language to describe them, we might be able to make them dance instead of fight.
The Ascendant is the front office, but our moon sign tells us a lot about our emotional life and where we find our deepest security. It will also give us the key to childhood events, especially those which have shaped or scarred us.
Again, if your sun and moon signs are at odds with each other, you might find it tricky to reconcile your particular kind of security with the way you want to live your life. A bold Aries, with a moon in Cancer, will feel a tug between her love of new things, and her delight in moving on, and her real desire for a safe and settled home. Often people feel guilty about the conflicts in themselves, and we blame ourselves for seeming fickle or contradictory. By looking at our birth charts, we can get a sense of where the pressure points are.
My Virgo sun loves continuity, attachment, roots, (Virgo is an earth sign), but my Gemini moon, as the child-like twins in an Air sign, are a pair of gypsy kids who need to be loved but not held. I have always struggled in my relationships between the seductions of settling down and planting trees (my favourite thing), and the need to be free as the wind to blow where I will. I have tried to solve this by having two houses (Gemini is a dual sign), and sometimes two lovers, but it hasn’t worked, and I’m still trying to find a balance that will solve both sides of my emotional nature.
Meanwhile, the maddening lion side of me – showy and glossy to the last, doesn’t care where we live or who we love, as long as we keep our Porsche.
Venus in the chart, which traditionally rules our attitudes to love and money, will give us a clue to the kind of lover we are attracted to, but if that Venus is in a tough aspect to our moon, we often find ourselves in a seemingly unbreakable spiral of falling for the wrong kind of man (or woman). It’s the Rhett Butler/Ashley Wilkes syndrome in Gone With The Wind; the exciting man gives us no lasting security, and the secure man bores us rigid.
Impossible? Not if you then look at what else is happening in the chart and start unravelling the problem.
When Henri first drew up my chart, she gazed at it for five minutes and said ‘I expect you get involved in a lot of triangular relationships.’ This was bang on, and it had been annoying me for some time. I really felt that whenever I satisfied one part of my nature, another important part was neglected. I took this to be a writer’s lot – we can never be satisfied, and if we were we wouldn’t write, but Henri’s view was more complex. She believes that by gaining deep knowledge about the component parts of ourselves, we may not actually find that elusive happiness we seek, but we won’t blame other people, or even ourselves, when we don’t.
The zodiac wheel shows our balances and imbalances very clearly. Even sceptics who have their chart drawn up and interpreted by a first rate astrologer are often amazed by the insights on offer. Dismiss it as coincidence if you like, but if turns out to be a help, who cares why it works?
This is really the point. We need all the help we can get in the modern world, and while I am not a therapy slut, seeking thrills at any booth, I am open minded enough to reckon that if something seems to work, I’ll take it seriously.
Of course I am open minded – I am a double Mutable – Virgo sun, Gemini moon (not to mention Venus and Mars in Virgo too), and astrology will tell you that this makes me intellectually curious, receptive to non-traditional ways of thinking, and deeply interested in the nature of consciousness.
It also makes me speedy on a good day, flighty on a bad day. Fast-thinking on a good day, unable to concentrate on one thing on a bad day.
Let me explain about this Mutable stuff:
The twelve star signs are divided into groups of Fixed, Cardinal and Mutable. So a Fixed sign, like Taurus, will have all the energy of perseverance. She is built for power, not speed, and she finds it difficult to change tack quickly. A Mutable sign, like me, is a bit of a wil o the wisp – my girlfriend calls me ‘Sprite’, and as she is a Taurus, it is easy for me to drive her mad. But she drives me mad because she does the washing up so slowly.
If you are in a relationship, it can be very useful to know the other person’s chart – where you clash and where you harmonise, and where you are simply different. A couple of Earth signs like my Virgo self and my Taurus lover, will both adore good food and wine, sex, and Nature, but my Airy Gemini moon sometimes finds her watery Cancer moon impossible to fathom (look at the language – ‘fathom’, I can’t get to the bottom of her, my air is for surfaces, not deep-diving). So when we row, we turn into a tempest – high winds and dangerous waves. If I can remember that information, even for a second, I can calm down.
When you check your lover’s chart, you will probably find that you draw in people who fill in your own energy gaps – you will certainly have serious fights with such people, but the process is a healthy one – you are trying, between you, to make yourselves whole.
Objections to astrology – apart from the one that it is a load of rubbish – are often aimed at its predictive or fatalistic nature –Yes, it’s true I blew up the office but I am an Aries with a Scorpio moon.
Scorpio moon can be vengeful and vindictive, and Aries loves a good blast, and is ruled by Mars, god of war. We could play this game all day, but no decent astrologer would use the chart either as a measure of fate, or as your destiny. The chart shows patterns, inclinations, susceptibilities, strengths, weaknesses, and likely times of crisis. It will not tell you how to behave, or take away responsibility for what you are.
I still find astrology uncomfortable. It asks that we take responsibility. It’s much easier to shrug our shoulders, and say, ‘Oh, that’s just the way I am’, than it is to get to grips with the way you are. Astrology can’t change your life, but it can reveal those areas of damage or difficulty that are holding you up.
Predictions in the sun sign columns are good fun, but they should not be taken too seriously. Vogue’s own monthly astro column is one of the best anywhere, because it is much more in-depth than the usual five lines, and it looks at patterns, not predictions. Even so, it can’t look at what is happening in your own individual chart.
Each of us is born at one unrepeatable point in time, somewhere on the earth’s surface. That is why no two charts are alike. Working with your individual chart is quite different to anything else you can do, if you are interested in self-knowledge. There will be the dialogue with your astrologer, but there should also be your dialogue with yourself, using the chart as a map and a guide.
But how can the planets possibly influence us?
Well, if the moon can affect the tide, I’m sure she can affect me. Most women, if they tune in, will recognise moon-patterns in their lives. I am full of energy at the full moon – in fact I go a bit bonkers – while the new moon seems to make me reflective and rather quiet.
For some years I kept a diary both of moon patterns and of other regular disruptions in my life. When I showed the diary to Henri, she pointed out that one such set of regular disruptions always coincided with Mercury Retrograde.
Let me explain. Around four times a year, Mercury reverses its path round the sun and appears to go backwards. Mercury, the smallest and fastest of the planets, rules communication, travel, the airwaves, deals and bargains, lost and found, anything to do with interchange or exchange.
Anyway, on the backwards travel, I lose my post, I miss trains, I have arguments about nothing, I can’t find anything, and only about a week into this mess do I ring up my astrologer, and she tells me the bad news. Check it for yourself – the next ghastly visitation is August 10-Sept 2nd.
Astrologers deal in a number of these fixed points in the chart, which will affect everyone, but in very different ways. The Saturn Return, at age 28-29, is the point where Saturn returns to its natal position in the chart, because Saturn takes around 28 years to make a full orbit of the sun.
The Saturn Return is always a point of crisis in an individual’s life – look out for major break-ups, or marriage, a big career change or house buying. Whatever it is, it will be significant, and it will set the agenda for some years to come.
My own Saturn Return was the moment when I was able to establish myself as a full-time writer, after a novel called The Passion, and when I ended a very destructive affair, and settled down with a partner for the next thirteen years. Interestingly, that relationship ended on the Uranus Return, when I was 42.
Uranus is the planet that prompts strange connections, quite separate to anything that can be provided by commonsense. Its presence in our lives is usually dubbed the mid-life crisis, when people do things that are utterly irrational and often rather silly, like buy a motorbike and take a sabbatical in Goa.
Astrology will not predict what will happen, but it can act as both warning and information.
If you want to read more about real astrology, some of the best books are written by British astrologer Liz Greene. I’d recommend anything of hers to make sense of this highly complex subject. Better still, have your chart drawn up, and then settle down to some reading
My astrologer, Henri Llewleyn Davies interprets psychically as well as traditionally, and she is eerily accurate. She is especially good at helping you to find the right house. I once bought a house without seeing it because Henri told me it would be perfect for me. Ten years later, I still have it.
There are those who put all this down to writer’s battiness. That somewhere I am just bohemian and gullible, looking for connections where there are none, being fleeced by snake-oil merchants and New Age flotsam.
I do not know how astrology works but I know that it does work, if by ‘work’, we mean that it provides useful insights into the self, not available by other means.
I do not understand the nature of psychic power, but I have been impressed by Henri’s guidance, and while I do not ask her to make decisions for me, I recognise that she can reach beyond the facts as we know them, and give me an alternative view. For instance, she once warned me not to buy a house I really wanted. Reluctantly I took her advice, still regretted it a year later until I saw it was for sale again. I found out that immediately after the first sale, the farmer next door had put in permission for six houses in the next field. He got it, and the house I had loved was blighted forever.
How do we explain what Henri ‘saw’?
Not everything can be explained. I do not accept that science will one day tell us how everything works. Life is more than the facts; life is a strange web of energy and interconnections, and it is that energy and those interconnections that astrology helps us to understand.
Paracelsus, the sixteenth century philosopher-physician put it like this: Each person is a sun and a moon, and a heaven filled with stars.
Henri Llewelyn Davies can be contacted on 0207 371 6473.
Jeanette Winterson’s new novel LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING is published by Fourth Estate.