Monday 28 November 2016

Secular Humanism and Sin

Secular humanism is the standard modern belief system, supposedly derived from science and the ideals of the French Revolution but actually a sort of perversion of Christian ideals which has taken a part of the truth and puffed it up out of all proportion in the context of the whole, at the same time neglecting, if not categorically denying, other more important parts. But whatever its initial inspiration, it is now clearly driven by forces seeking to separate Man more and more from God, to lead him to deny his source and restrict himself to the material world. For the last few decades one of the key ways these forces have been doing this is by attempting to deconstruct the human form in terms of its fundamental identity as two distinct and complementary sexes. Once this reality is lost the human being is disconnected from spiritual truth and its nature can be reassembled from below.  If this sounds a little excessive to you that merely shows how far the process has already gone. Previous generations, or maybe even you a few years ago, would not have thought so.

Secular humanism, which is fundamentally atheistic, has taken much of its moral code from Christianity but it leaves out the most important part, and the one which is the bedrock of all else, which is to love God.  It also misinterprets the commandment to love your neighbor, taking it as affirming egalitarianism and rejecting discrimination. However, as the Masters said to me, human beings are by no means equal on the earth plane (they are equal as human beings but not as expressed forms of the human being), and the wisest course is to treat people with fairness and justice but not necessarily equally, a subtle but crucial difference. This demands judgement which secular humanism doesn't like, always preferring, theoretically at least, to treat everyone the same. 

Truth can be represented by a cross with a vertical and a horizontal axis and it should never be forgotten that the latter hangs on the former. But this is precisely what secular humanism does forget (or deliberately ignore), treating the horizontal axis is if it were all there is. However when you expand your parameters beyond the second commandment to include the first you see that loving God necessarily demands loving truth, and that means that you are obliged to condemn falsehood where you see it and not simply support your neighbour in his acts and beliefs regardless of what they are. The humanist way, which is relativistic, thinks that loving your neighbour means accepting him whatever he does or thinks as long as it doesn’t cause obvious harm to others but this can easily amount to the denial of God and absolute truth. This is not love but sentimentality and moral relativism.

For the injunction to love the sinner does not mean that you don’t recognize his sin as sin or that he is a sinner. You cannot use the theory of love to deny the reality of objective truth, and if you do you will have neither for love, real love, always goes hand in hand with truth. True love does not forbear to point out right from wrong. After all, what is the greater love, to encourage someone happily walking towards the edge of a cliff or to pull him back?

So the way love approaches the reality of sin is to say that, yes, it is sin but there is the possibility of repentance and forgiveness. It does not simply deny that the sin is sin because if it did it would be complicit in keeping the person in the sinful state without offering him a way out to the life more abundant, the life of joy rather than pleasure. Does love make a prison more comfortable or offer a way of escape?

When it comes down to it secular humanism can only end in one thing and that is nihilism. You might not think so at the moment because people are often better than the belief system they espouse since God is within us whether we acknowledge him or not. But the more the West uses up its moral inheritance from Christianity, and the further its morals come from their true source, the more nihilistic it will become until its morality will be just a matter of utilitarianism. Secular humanism cannot stretch us or help us grow out of our limited self-enclosed state. It cannot encourage the God within to come out for it does not acknowledge him. The only way it can go is down.

N.B. Many people dislike the word 'sin' because it implies unworthiness, condemnation and all sorts of negative things. But the reality is that it is a perfectly good word to describe that which separates the human being from its Maker and its proper spiritual destiny, and that's a serious matter.

Sunday 27 November 2016

St Cuthbert

The man on the white horse comes to heal Cuthbert

St Cuthbert was one of the early British saints. Known as the Apostle of Northumbria and widely venerated throughout and after his life, his relics survived the dissolution of the monasteries and are still, nearly 1400 years after his death, kept in Durham Cathedral.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Sexual Morality

I saw an article the other day by a well-known Christian philosopher in which he said that such things as pre-marital sex, adultery, the practice of homosexuality and abortion, in other words all those things given the green light by the sexual revolution of the 1960s, were wrong because God said so through Holy Scripture or the church. I disagree. It may well be the case that these things are wrong but it just isn't enough to put it like that nowadays. We are no longer children. Now we must ask that if God says so, why does he say so? If he said the opposite (obviously impossible in reality but theoretically possible), would we just change our ways on that basis?  God doesn't want us to obey him as though he were a tyrant and we his subjects, not the Christian God anyway though some other versions of the divine personage might fall into that category. Above all, he wants us to join him in understanding why right is right and wrong is wrong. And it’s not just because he has ordained it so. Or rather it is, but there is a reason.

It isn't good enough any longer to give a rule without giving the reason for that rule, and if we are told to give up a seeming good we are entitled to ask if this is because of a greater good. In this instance that is precisely the reason. Our Creator is not a spoilsport or puritanical misery. He wants nothing but our good and our happiness, but he knows that our real good lies in spiritual things and this means that we must learn to identify our true nature with the soul, our spiritual being, not personal desires of mind and body. These are not illegitimate because, of course, the mind and body are part of what we are. However they need to be seen in their correct place and very often, in our marred post-lapsarian world, their expression, you might say, their unnatural expression, conflicts with the requirements of the soul and prevents a proper understanding of it.  This is quite apart from any societal breakdown an unrestricted sexual morality might bring in its wake.

Sex is the most powerful force known to us and that is not surprising since it is the source and means of creativity.  It is the result of splitting original unity into two, a necessary split if the unmanifest was to become manifest and creation enabled to take place. However, without being controlled in some way, it can destroy a civilisation. It can certainly derail it from any spiritual achievement, and it seems all cultures have recognised this especially in the periods of their building up. In the period of their decadence and decline it's quite another story, and the examples of past history should be a warning to us.

The more you allow yourself to be dominated by your worldly mind and physical body, the more you will be identified with these aspects of your being and the less you will be able to respond to the soul which is the spiritual component of your being.  The more you act in a way that contradicts truth, the more you will separate yourself from truth until there will come a point at which you will cease to even recognise it and deny its very existence.

As sex is the strongest force there is it needs to be controlled and managed, and the best way to do this is through fidelity to one partner in marriage in which the physical aspect of sex is viewed through a spiritual prism as a reflection of a higher truth. And this is the point. Physical sex is the reflection of a higher truth and if the physical aspect is over-emphasised then its higher aspects will not be able to make their appearance in the individual’s mind. The mind will be too taken up with the lower (lower because relating purely to the physical body) aspects. This is not some kind of Gnostic denial of the body but a recognition of the hierarchical nature of man’s being. Man has many levels to his being and focusing too much on lower levels will block access to higher ones. This is why sex unconstrained by love will dull perception and cloud spiritual vision, and why an over-concern with physical pleasure will deaden receptivity to the inner soul and its intuitive faculties.

At the same time, it is true that sometimes when a person begins to open himself up to higher levels of being through the creative imagination the downpour of energy will over-stimulate to the point that the sexual nature is also stirred up excessively. We can often see this in the lives of poets, artists and the like. However, this is a preliminary phase and a more developed understanding and response will bring about stability. There will still be an increased sensitivity to beauty and a yearning towards union but it will be spiritual rather than physical union that now takes precedence.

This gives us a clue as to why the current sexual over-emphasis and stimulation must be viewed in a negative light. It is quite simply that the sexual and spiritual forces in man are one and the same which is why energy, if directed into the lower channel, cannot go into the higher. Celibacy is not necessarily required. That could cause more trouble than it’s worth if it leads to an inner frustration in which the mind gravitates to thoughts about sex more than it would in the context of a healthy expression. But discipline and control and recognition that the sexual impulse belongs to man’s animal nature not his angelic side are. And, of course, in an naturally ordered world even the physical expression of sex would diminish once an individual goes past the point of having children, something that our current attitude, which encourages even elderly people long past child bearing age to carry on having sex, would completely reject. But these people are at an age when they should be thinking more and more about their spiritual growth, and it is a poisoned society that encourages them to neglect this and attempt to prolong their youth.

So the philosopher was right in the moral position he took but I think that the reasons he gave for it were insufficient. It is surely better to understand why we should behave in a certain way than just to be told that we should with no explanation given.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Le Mont Saint-Michel

Le Mont Saint-Michel at high tide

Here's a link to a post on Albion Awakening about le Mont Saint-Michel, one of the main pilgrimage sites in the Western world.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Meditation and Prayer

Meditation and prayer are the two fundamental pillars of the spiritual life, and it's safe to say that no spiritual practice can be effective if it doesn't include at least one of them. They do fulfil different functions, though, and here I'd like to consider what those might be.

Let's get some definitions in place first. What is meditation? Basically it is the attempt to still the endlessly active form-making mind to find out what lies beneath. (Or above, both are symbolically acceptable). There are various techniques designed to aid with this, ranging from concentration on an image, to visualisation, to repeating a mantra, to focusing on the breath and so on, but what they are all attempting to do is create an inner state of stillness and silence in which the rational ego-centred mind is bypassed and the bedrock of consciousness allowed to raise to the surface of attention. The outer world, which includes thought and the sense of self, is negated leaving only consciousness as it is in itself. In that state there arises a different kind of awareness, one seemingly not restricted to or dependent on body or brain. Whether that really is the case is another matter but the point is that the meditator enters into a state in which his normal everyday self is transcended or, at least, held in abeyance. So meditation, at its highest and not simply as a means to find some peace in a busy world, is for mystics. It is for those who wish to go beyond self to find a deeper reality in formless awareness.

But does it make you a better person? As always in spiritual practice everything depends on motive or intention so the answer to that is, not necessarily. It might bring peace, it might bring a measure of insight but, on its own, it is not going to make an egotist less egotistical. It might make us adopt an outer manner that is less egotistical and it might even make us act less egotistically and more lovingly or what, if I may say so, we assume is lovingly, but, as my teachers informed me, we still need to have the humbling experience of prayer. Meditation, at its best, will connect us to the God within, or the impersonal self considered as pure unmanifest being, but this is not necessarily going to change us fundamentally in the sense of the individual selves we will inevitably come back to. Yes, of course, it will affect us and we may appear and act and even think differently but, if we are talking about fundamental change at the root level of the ego, then meditation by itself is not enough.

There are two aspects to spirituality once we start to take it more seriously and move beyond a conventional outer religious approach. These are mysticism and sanctity. Meditation is concerned with the mystical side. It is a way of going beyond our earthbound self and accessing a deeper form of consciousness that can rightly be called spiritual in that it is not limited by the restrictions of form. But just as life is not just material so it is not just spiritual either. It's a combination of the two in the same way that we are and if we neglect this reality then our spiritual development will remain incomplete as does that of so many people practising the mystical approach. They seek God within as pure abstract being and neglect the transcendent Creator who is the personal God, union with whom transforms our individual selves. This is sanctification of the soul, and the way to it is through prayer. It is no coincidence that the Buddha is normally depicted with closed eyes, rapt in higher consciousness, but Christ has his eyes wide open, having united the two worlds of being and becoming, spirit and matter within himself. Christ did not teach the suppression of individuality but its transformation into a higher state that included all its good points, necessarily sacrificed in the pure being of Nirvana but in Christian terms remade into the new man. Now this transformation does require, in a certain sense, the death of self, as symbolised by the Crucifixion, but that is just the death of the false self, the self that clings to itself as a fixed centre separate from all else. Individuality remains as the fruit of the whole incarnationary experience and rises like a phoenix from the ashes, now transfigured into a higher state in which it is united with its source in God.

So meditation relates to mysticism and its practitioners tend to assume that the human being is consciousness above all and not much else really matters. But prayer relates to us as individual created souls who can become one with God when we have emptied ourselves of the stain of egotism. Individuality is preserved and we are made sons and companions of the Father, joined in love which is why he created us in the first place. Meditation basically rejects the created world but prayer embraces it because it is, as its Creator saw, good. I think meditation is important to detach us from our petty selves and give us an insight into the fundamental background of existence. But if we are to know God in his personal form, which was his intention in creating us, then we need prayer, and the essence of prayer is simple. It is always remembering the Creator, keeping him in our thoughts at all times. The constant remembrance of God or the divine presence is the deepest prayer.

Meditation is seeking the depths of your own soul as it was before you were born when it rested in God's being. But prayer is humbly acknowledging your Creator and inviting him into your heart. Both are good but prayer reaches beyond the impersonal to the personal, and the expression of the personal or individual is the whole point of creation and why there is something rather than nothing. God created the universe to express himself in love, and, while meditation might align you with the quiescent state of the world before creation, it is through prayer that you will come to know God as he is in his expressed state in which his glory is made manifest. Meditation is only half the story.

Saturday 12 November 2016

The Old Country

A post on Albion Awakening reflecting on early human consciousness as it is revealed in the Wiltshire countryside and prehistoric monuments there. Also on how we can build on that to go forwards from a passive sense of oneness with the spirit of God in nature to a more engaged understanding of and connection to God in himself, one in which love rather than simple oneness is the keynote.

Friday 11 November 2016

Unity and Division

One of the sacred cows of the modern world, especially the modern spiritual world, is unity but if we look back we see that while unity was always valued in the past, it was not under any terms. In other words, unity was important but other things were more important. Chief among these, of course, was truth. What good is unity if it is based on falsehood? But now we put unity above all else and inevitably sacrifice not only truth but any ideas of higher and lower as well. For unity is based on quantity and, if enforced, will result in the loss of quality which is what we increasingly have today.

So sometimes in order to protect truth what matters is not unity but division.

I am aware that this is a heretical thing to say in the modern world but this conclusion had been forced on me by the current state of the world as an ever greater push towards unity results in an ever greater loss of truth in its higher aspects.  And I am comforted in this conclusion by the fact that Jesus said he did not come to bring peace but a sword.  What does a sword do? It divides, specifically, in this sense, it divides truth from falsehood.

Unity is good and much to be desired but not at any cost. There is a higher unity and a lower unity and only the former is worth having. For unity is primarily a spiritual thing which means it operates at an inner level and not necessarily on an outer one.  Indeed it may be wrong outwardly if it results in a falling away from truth and leads to an undifferentiated uniformity of ignorance. Quality, which is spiritual, is always to be valued over material quantity as long as life exists in an expressed form. Creation itself is based on quality and if we envisage the world of created beings as a ladder stretching from earth to heaven we see that there may be one ladder, the ladder of life, but there are many rungs. Sometimes we are led to ignore the oneness of the ladder. At others we ignore the reality of the rungs. Both matter.

To sum up. Truth is more important than unity and, though unity may be part of truth, it is not the whole of it

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Transcending Conflict

The devil frequently likes to set up two opposites both of which contains bits (different bits) of truth but plenty of falsehood too. The adherents of each side focus on the truth in their chosen side and ignore the rest and then do the reverse for the other side. This need not mean that both are equally as good or equally as bad as the other. One may indeed be the better choice though it will not be without flaws. That doesn't matter to the devil. What he wants to do is fuel division and if that can lead to anger and hatred so much the better. Unless we are wise he cannot lose. He spreads lies under a veneer of truth and then, as people react to that with negative feelings, he sits back and enjoys, maybe even feeds off, the ensuing clouds of darkness.

The only way to avoid being caught up in this is to stay focused on higher realities, to set your mind and heart on God and to try to see the truth from that perspective and that perspective alone. Obviously one still has to live and act in this world with all its imperfections and that means that sometimes one might have to make a choice that is far from ideal from the higher point of view. Then make it! But make it knowing that, without God at its core, it is easily corrupted and then you may be back to a worse position than before.

Never forget that in most conflicts in this world the devil likes to play for both sides and set one off against the other in pursuit of his grand plan of spiritual corruption. But always remember that God can put all his plans to naught if we allow him to do so by inviting him into our hearts. The real God, that is, not an idol of our own making. That's important.

P. S. This isn't a direct comment on the American election but, of course, is inspired by it.

Monday 7 November 2016

The Media

We seem to be living right in the heart of the Kali Yuga, that time prophesied in ancient Indian teachings when values are inverted, truth is desecrated, standards twisted, good made bad, bad made good and beauty laughed at while ugliness is celebrated. If you don't believe this then you have succumbed to the relentless propaganda of the last, at least, hundred years which has certainly been intensifying over the last fifty and is now the dominating ethos. You have suppressed your natural instincts either because they were too insubstantial to begin with or else because they have been overwhelmed by the external barrage telling you that they are outmoded and wrong, stupid, ignorant and prejudiced, or else because you are too frightened to do otherwise in the face of everyone else apparently going along with the new ways of thinking. You may even have been deceived by the fact that the lies of the modern world are wrapped up in a shiny package which promises progress and enlightenment and that, somewhere along with these lies, there are elements of truth that do indeed put right some of the ignorance of the past. The past certainly was very far from perfect but we have here the classic scenario of throwing out the baby along with the bathwater. The baby was belief in a supernatural creator of goodness, truth and love and that has now been replaced by a gurning demon promising everything but delivering nothing, with the bathwater filthier than ever.

One of the main purveyors of this inversion of truth is the media. What is the media? Well, it is pretty much everything that conveys information. So it is television, radio, newspapers, magazines and the internet. But it is also films, the arts and, by extension, even science and politics. So, in a sense, either directly or indirectly everything is the media. Certainly everything is affected by the media and that includes, most tragically, education. But there are some aspects of it that are more to the fore in that they are directly concerned with reconstructing our minds according to the new ideology and with presenting deviations from truth as though they were self-evident facts which every sane and civilised person goes along with as natural assumptions of how things either are or definitely should be. Television, film, advertising and marketing are particular weapons in this propaganda war. They have been used for several decades now to distort and remake reality, and it is almost impossible today to escape their pernicious influence. Only those fortunate enough to be protected by a deep sense of religion on the one hand, or the writings of some people who must surely be seen as having been sent by God in these dark times, Tolkien and CS Lewis among them*, on the other can avoid indoctrination. Compare, for example, most films of the past when goodness and purity were upheld as true values with most of those of the last several decades which have twisted moral values, often with great skill and artistry, and you will surely see what I mean.

The media is all around us and touches everything we see and do. It is inescapable so what do we do to avoid becoming contaminated by its spiritually corrosive effects? Firstly, and obviously, limit our use of as much as we can. But at the same time we do need to know what is going on. We cannot combat the world by running away from it, and the modern spiritually concerned person does need to combat the world. Now is not the time for attending purely to our own souls. We must engage with the world, even if it is only in a small way by trying to be an example of how a human being should be. Today the world has become so corrupt and so dominated by demonic forces, ideologically speaking and probably in other ways too, that all those who have an inkling of the truth must proclaim it and not just leave the world to get on with itself while they renounce and reject it. There will always be a need for monasteries to stand as centres of spiritual force, and I would like to see people living as real hermits dedicated to God as apparently used to be the case in the Middle Ages, but the state of the world today requires all spiritually awakened people to stand out against the tidal wave of lies and distortion. They could be derided and scorned, and may even one day be persecuted, but they need to be there to proclaim the truth for all those who might be waiting to hear it.

So we should limit our use of the media but we also need to be informed as to what is happening in the world so we can stand against it. We can also combat the effects of the modern media by imaginative engagement with the good, the beautiful and the true. Now this often does mean going back to the past but that should not be mistaken for, or turn into, a regressive exercise in nostalgia. We are not retreating to the past but availing ourselves of its best fruits, quite a different thing. The past was often corrupt too but there was at least until recent times a recognition of how the universe worked and what it all meant. That not only does not exist now, and this is reflected in the media and in contemporary arts and science, but it is actively denied. So to enter a mindset in which God is acknowledged, either directly or indirectly, we may need to look to the past. This will help to inoculate us against the spiritually debilitating effects of the present day media.

And finally we need to seek sanctuary in prayer. Prayer is our greatest protection against the modern media. The media cannot understand prayer. It is anathema to it. It remains our best ally in the war against those forces that seek to destroy the soul.

I'm not saying that absolutely everything in the media is spiritually corrosive and there is nothing good in it anywhere. That is not the case, there are still some people trying to stem the tide, but the vast majority of the media is destructive of higher values and that is certainly the overriding tone of it. Much of this is just people going along with the status quo, some of it has to do with money but a lot of it is quite deliberate.

* Whom I mention as they must have helped countless children see through the modern distortions of reality.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

The Need for Saints

I have put another post on Albion Awakening. This one is on the necessity of an infusion of saints if there is to be a proper revival of spirituality. One that is sustainable and can develop into something healthy and real unlike the mini revivals that took place in the 1960s with the hippies and the 1980s with the New Age movement, both of which were superficial and neither of which were based on a genuine love of God, except in the case of a few individuals here and there.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Astrology, The Practice.

In the previous post I spoke about astrology from a general point of view, explaining why I believe there are strong grounds for thinking it has some validity, particularly when it comes to character analysis. Here I would like to go into the nuts and bolts of it a little more, and to set out how it actually works by which I mean how an astrologer translates the pattern of the planets in the heavens into a description of how a human being manifests him or herself. I say him or her deliberately because astrology, like many occult or esoteric sciences, is very much based on polarity. All planets and all signs can be conceived in terms of masculine and feminine, whether it be Sun and Moon, Venus and Mars, Aries and Virgo, Leo and Cancer and so on. The fundamental principle of the manifested universe is duality and everything is built up from that basic structure. Astrology reflects this. 

The horoscope is a picture of the sky at the moment you were born as it appeared where you were born. So it would be different if you were born in London or New York even though it might have been at exactly the same time. This is because of the axial revolution of the Earth which makes the planets appear at different positions in the sky from the perspective of a person on the ground. Think of how the sun rises at different times depending on where you are and this should make things clearer. The planets will be in the same signs, which are represented in the outermost circle, because that is the backdrop of the constellations, and they will form the same angular relationships to each other. However, depending on our location, they will be in different houses, these being the slices of cake going from the inner to the outer circle and numbered from 1 to 12. The houses are calculated from the cusp (dividing line) of the first house which is the thick line in bold on the left of the chart pointing to AC and signifying the eastern horizon at birth. The others follow in anti-clockwise direction. The houses represent areas of life in which the planets within them operate while the planets in the signs reflect character attributes or the way in which the psychological principles represented by the planets act. The first, fourth, seventh and tenth houses are regarded as the most important ones though proper astrologers take them all into account. These are denoted by the thick black lines which point towards the AC (1st house - Ascendant), its opposite in the 7th house the DC (Descendant), the IC which is the 4th house at the bottom (Imum Coeli or Deep heaven) and, at the top, the MC (Medium Coeli or Midheaven). These are all important points as they represent the way you present yourself to the world (AC), the type of partner or 'other' you might favour (DC), your deepest sense of home and where you feel you are coming from (IC at the bottom) and your destiny, career, vocation (MC at the top). Planets in close relationship to these points are significant.

This might sound a little complicated but if you imagine the Earth as the little circle at the centre you can see that the AC is the point on the eastern horizon where the sun would be at sunrise, the MC at the top is the highest point of the chart where the sun would be at noon and the DC (western horizon) and IC are their opposites, the points of sunset and midnight respectively. The lower half of the chart, under the AC/DC axis is therefore the dark side and the upper, the light. This is my chart and I was born just after midnight (British Summer Time so 11.30 GMT) so you can see that the sun, whose pictorial symbol or glyph is the circle with a little circle inside it, is approaching the thick black line which points to midnight. As the Earth rotates in a counter clockwise direction the planets seem to move clockwise in the chart. If I had been born at sunrise the sun would have been on the line of the Ascendant. The same hold true for all the other planets but, of course, the sun is the most obvious.

I should point out that the signs in astrology, which are depicted by the 12 glyphs in the outermost circle, starting in this case with Cancer on the Ascendant, are not the same as the constellations though they have the same name. Roughly 2,000 years ago they would have coincided but because of the precession of the equinoxes they no longer do. Doubters seize on this to say that astrology is nonsense but the point is that Aries (for example) is not the backdrop formed by that constellation of unrelated stars but the 30 degree distance from the vernal equinox point with Taurus forming the next 30 degrees, Gemini the next 30 and so on in a circle. So astrology is really based on the solar system not the distant constellations at all. These form a backdrop used for purely descriptive purposes.

The main things in a chart are as follows.

Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars and their signs, houses and aspects they make to other planets. Then there is the Ascendant and Midheaven. Saturn is also important. Where the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, are concerned, these mostly have significance in the angles they make to personal planets. 

The Sun sign is usually the thing everyone knows. I'm a Leo, we say. Astrology is a geocentric system (which does not invalidate it as it describes how things are from the perspective of the Earth) so this means that the Sun was between 120 and 150 degrees from the vernal equinox when you were born. The vernal equinox is the point when the sun on the path of the ecliptic crosses the plane of the Earth's equator at spring in the northern hemisphere, making day and night of equal length all around the world. So around March 20th. The ecliptic is the apparent path of the sun, and all the planets, round the Earth during the course of a year. Projecting the Earth's equator up into space gives two points of intersection with this at spring and autumn, and these are the equinoxes.

The Sun in a chart represents your basic sense of self. It signifies will, consciousness and individuality. It is the masculine principle and though, of course, possessed by both men and women, is traditionally stronger in the former as its nature coincides with theirs. Let us say that it is, as in this example, in Virgo. This implies that the person is methodical, orderly and discriminating but also can be critical and even a bit of a fusspot. The fundamental tone of Virgo is purity and this quality will be very important to anyone who has a strong Virgoan influence in their chart. But the subtleties of astrology mean that even the basic tone of something as normally dominant as the sun sign can be diminished by other factors in the chart if these go a different way. This is why a proper interpretation must take the whole into account. Again, doubters don't like this because it can seem that you are saying that if it works, it works, if it doesn't then something else is acting hence anything goes. But it is not saying that at all. Everything will have its reason and the reason can be given. It's just saying that astrology is subtle enough to take into account apparent contradictions in a person's character. If a Virgo Sun goes with a lot of Leo and Aries, fiery signs both, then Virgo will still be there but much less than if it went with, say, Pisces and Cancer. Incidentally I call Aries and Leo fiery signs because each one of the signs goes with one of the four elements so there are three signs assigned to each element. The weight of the elements in a chart should also be taken into consideration in an interpretation. 

When you interpret a planet in a sign you must also look to see what aspects it forms with other planets. The triangle at lower left shows the table of aspects, and the blue and red lines in the chart also show aspect connections. Aspects are angular relationships between planets in the context of the circle which is the map of the skies at birth, and are said to bring the qualities of the planets concerned into particular focus and show how the psychological functions that the planets represent relate. The main aspects are formed when planets are conjunct, opposite, at 60, 90 or 120 degrees of each other, and they can either bring the powers of the planets together harmoniously or cause them to clash, sometimes both. That's what the blue and red lines indicate in the horoscope. Blue meaning harmonious interaction, red more challenging but then blue can lead to too much ease of expression whereas red, because it challenges, can be more stimulating and potentially creative. So blue connections, which is some conjunctions, sextiles (60 degrees) and trines (120), can mean a smooth exchange of energy and show talents that come easily to us, while red can show a connection is made between planetary principles but it might be a difficult one, requiring effort to resolve and take forward though in the process there is the opportunity for learning and growth. I find aspects one of the most important parts of astrology. In this example there is a conjunction of the Sun and Venus which, other things being equal, tends to bring out charm, taste and artistic sensibility. Here it will moderate some of the more severe and 'puritanical' Virgo characteristics.

The Moon represents our habits and instincts. Along with Venus it denotes emotion but Venus is primarily about relating whereas the Moon is more to do with fundamental feelings such as those connected to childhood and our sense of security. It also speaks of the unconscious mind, the mind below the surface of everyday rational thought and ego sense. As this would imply, it tends to relate to the past and a more collective sense of self. In this chart the Moon is in Scorpio, in conjunction with Saturn and square (90 degrees from) Pluto. Traditionally this would not be regarded as a good placing. Scorpio gives intensity and power to what it touches but can be extreme and even destructive. This shows someone who has strong feelings but keeps them controlled. The square to Pluto (which rules Scorpio in modern astrology) just increases all these tendencies, giving powerful feelings which could manifest for good or ill depending on the subject's ability to control and/or transform them. The conjunction the Moon makes with Saturn could help here, giving the subject a degree of self-control and a sense of responsibility which nevertheless could also reveal itself in inhibition and emotional distance to others. Shyness in childhood is indicated as, figuratively speaking, the cold hand of Saturn chills and suppresses the emotional self represented by the Moon.

I'll go through Mercury, Venus and Mars quickly, just to give an idea of what they mean in a chart. Mercury reflects the way we think and communicate. Here it is in Libra, conjunct Neptune. The placing shows someone who is reasonable and tries to be diplomatic and fair, to see both sides of an argument. There is a suggestion of laziness. The aspect with Neptune shows an imaginative temperament, definitely someone who responds more to intuition than cold reason and logic. Not a fool (intelligence is not shown in a chart, merely the way we think) but someone more drawn to poetry and vision than hard science. With a challenging aspect there is the possibility of self-delusion and a confused mental state but that is not the case with the positive qualities to the fore.

Venus shows how we relate, what gives us pleasure and attracts us and how we express these things in the context of our personality. It is also supposed to have something to do with money. For example, Saturn tends to inhibit and restrict what it comes into contact with (see above) and a Venus Saturn conjunction is the typical indication of a miser though it might be fairer to call such a person someone who has a deep fear of scarcity and lack where money in concerned. In this chart Venus is in its own sign of Libra indicating someone who values grace and harmony and prefers to respond with courtesy and tact in most situations rather than abrasiveness or confrontation.

Mars indicates our drive and assertiveness. In a woman's chart it is said to show the sort of man she might be attracted to. Strongly placed by sign or aspect or closeness to the angles of the Ascendant or Midheaven, it would show positive qualities of courage and determination but, if functioning in an unbalanced way, then bad temper and aggression would be to the fore. Unless, as always, this was countered by other factors in the chart.

The sign positions of Jupiter out to Pluto (which by the way is still a planet in astrology) are not very relevant on an individual level as these planets appear to be so slow moving that their impact is generational. The way they interact with other planets in the chart is important though. Saturn's influence is always something to look for as it shows where we feel constricted or inhibited or where our fears and lack of confidence might lie. In the 7th house, which is the house of our relationships, it might indicate an older partner or a late marriage. Jupiter is the opposite. It reflects optimism and growth and tends to expands what it touches, sometimes over-expand. A conjunction of the Sun with Jupiter, for instance, would indicate jollity and generosity. Father Christmas must have one of these!

There's so much in a chart it can take a long time to go through it properly. I've just scratched the surface. But it's not hard to get a basic understanding once you learn the symbols and master the language. Also, I should say that astrology only indicates basic psychological types. Somebody could have been born at the same time as Shakespeare but wasn't a great playwright. Genius is not indicated in a chart nor is spiritual maturity nor wisdom nor goodness. Hitler's chart was not that of a bad person and I doubt that Jesus's chart would have indicated who he was. There is the innate quality of a person and there is the way that is expressed. Astrology only describes the latter. 

I don't regard it as a spiritual activity. However it does have much to reveal on a psychological level and gives an insight, I believe, into the workings of the inner universe. And though I say genius cannot be detected in the birth chart I should add as a proviso that this is with our current understanding of it. There may well be more to it than we now know. There are many things I haven't mentioned here such as midpoints between planets, connections to fixed stars and other sensitive points in the chart which are not clearly delineated by having a planet sitting on them such as the nodes of the Moon. Also, the aspects to the outer planets can have deeper meaning. But this all takes it into quite complicated terrain, and the truth is nobody really knows how far you can take it.  I do think, though, that it describes the outer self and its expression rather than the inner soul. Which would make sense since it is depicting who we are in this life, starting at birth and ending at death. It's a bit like a piece of music. Astrology might say that you are a symphony rather than an opera or a concerto or a folk song etc, but it doesn't say whether you're a good, mediocre or bad one.

Regarding the chart interpretation here, I have done what a proper astrologer would never do. That is, I have taken the constituent parts of it bit by bit rather than interpreting them in the context of the overall character of the chart. A good astrologer would look at the individual parts and then try to see them in the framework of the whole. Some bits might be subdued because of the overall tenor of the chart. Others might be emphasised. In this case the Moon would be regarded as important as it is the ruling planet of the chart. This is because it rules the sign of Cancer which is on the Ascendant. But I have not been interpreting this chart so much as using it to illustrate how astrology works. 

To sum up, Sun, Moon and Ascendant are the main things in a chart. Then Mercury, Venus and Mars. Saturn is important as is the Midheaven as it shows one's path in life both by sign and through planets which may aspect it.  But everything depends on what else is going on. Planets can be made stronger if they are near angles or in signs or houses they rule or emphasised in other ways, by aspect for example. Aspects are always important but they do depend on how tight they are. If the angular relationship is exact the influence is stronger but it can still operate up to several degrees apart, though the further away, the weaker the influence.

That may seem to be hedging my bets but it is true. And it's also true that one can do a better interpretation when you know a person because then you perceive how the influences work out in that individual. The element of individuality is always important since we are not machines. Inherited characteristics are also significant in a person's make up, of course, but these may be incorporated in the planetary positions which are probably best thought of as offering a description of a person not actually forming the nature of that person though, as I say, we just don't know. What we do know is that there is some connection between the position of the planets at birth and the form a person's character will take. I really do think there is enough evidence to say that we do now know this.