There is today an increasingly popular school of astrology called Evolutionary Astrology that sees astrology as a way of understanding not just the character and destiny of an individual human being, but of the progressive unfoldment (evolution) of the soul, in two distinct but closely related ways:
- The development of the individual soul through a progressive series of incarnations on the physical plane.
- The progressive development of the collective soul of humanity over the course of history.
Neither of these approaches is really “new” to astrology. The idea of reincarnation and soul development over many lifetimes has been a prominent feature of many religious and spiritual traditions through the ages, and has been reflected in astrology under various names: spiritual astrology, karmic astrology, esoteric astrology and so on.
Likewise, the idea that humanity as a whole progresses through various stages of soul development has been a longstanding element of astrological thought, reflected in the doctrine of astrological ages (like the Age of Aquarius that we are entering now).
Not until fairly recent times, however, have these ideas begun to seep into the mainstream of astrological thinking and gained any widespread attention. Even today, much of popular astrology concentrates exclusively on the individual’s day-to-day life experience: Will I find true love? Will I get a raise at work? Is next month a fortunate time to buy a new house — or take a vacation — or win the lottery?
As important as these more mundane concerns are to all of us, they do little to answer the bigger spiritual questions that have always guided our quest for wisdom and understanding: Who am I? What is the meaning of life? Where do I come from and where am I going? What is my cosmic destiny or purpose?
As an aspect of the ancient metaphysical wisdom tradition, these are the questions that astrology was originally formulated to answer. Observing that the cycles of movement in the skies correlated with the cycles of seasonal growth and human activity — “as above, so below” — the ancients sought to understand the underlying order and purpose of life itself through the movements of stars and planets.
With the rise of science and the triumph of materialism in the worldview of the “advanced” cultures of the world, this evolutionary/spiritual understanding of astrology gradually lost currency. Where astrological thinking survived at all, it took a turn from being a wisdom art to being at best a divinatory art — a way of predicting the future and discerning the “good” and “evil” influences that could affect the daily life of an individual. Although astrology’s spiritual roots were never completely lost, it was not until the coming Age of Aquarius began to make its changing values felt around the middle of the 20th century that serious astrologers began to turn their attentions once again to the understanding of cosmic meaning and purpose … and to merge these understandings into the new streams of “holistic” thinking about evolution and the nature of consciousness.
Evolutionary Astrology in Modern Times
Actually, this modern renaissance in astrological thinking had its roots in the late 19th century, in the writings of Madame H.P. Blavatsky, G.I. Gurdjieff, Rudolf Steiner, P.D. Ouspensky and others involved in the Theosophical movement, who re-presented to the modern world a great many teachings of the ancient spiritual traditions that had gone underground during the Dark Ages. Following on the heels of those pioneers, two outstanding figures of the mid-20th century took up the cause of spiritual astrology: Alice Bailey and Dane Rudhyar. Although adopting very different approaches, both writers presented astrology in its broader spiritual context and sought to bring the traditional teachings into harmony with the concept of evolution on both a personal and a cosmic scale.
Alice Bailey’s Esoteric Astrology presents this evolutionary understanding in the context of traditional metaphysics, as amplified by H.P. Blavatsky, and focuses on the “Seven Rays” or qualities of manifested energy in the universe:
- The ray of will/power
- The ray of love/wisdom
- The ray of active intelligence
- The ray of harmony through conflict
- The ray of concrete knowledge and science
- The ray of devotion and idealism
- The ray of ceremonial order and magic
Each individual’s “purpose” in life can be understood in terms of development along the paths outlined by the seven rays, and the birth chart is an indicator of the individual’s “soul family” … or more particularly his or her unique role in the great work of ultimately unifying these seven rays into the white light of pure spirit or God.
The complete text of Esoteric Astrology is available online athttp://beaskund.helloyou.ws/netnews/bk/astrology/toc.html.
Dane Rudhyar’s approach was less traditional, drawing more from the emerging holistic theories of biology and physics, and mapping these ideas to the framework of traditional astrology. Indeed, Rudhyar was a natural philosopher before he became a world-renowned astrologer. A good introduction to Rudhyar’s ideas can be found in my article Dane Rudhyar’s Astrology and Conscious Evolution, which appeared in the first issue of Metamorphosis, September 2002.
As different as these two approaches were, they were united in several important ways. Both presented evolution as a “journey of the Soul” through cycles of experience aimed at bridging the gap between the individual personality and the higher self of the Soul. The individual personality is seen as one’s limited identification with a single incarnation as a particular human being; the higher self of the Soul is seen as the spiritual being who goes through these experiences in various incarnations in order to gain experience. Both Bailey and Rudhyar presented the Soul as a particular expression of the underlying unity we call God. Both presented the idea that there is a natural order or structure to the process of existence, and that this structure has purpose and direction — that it moves always toward greater awareness of unity and harmony through the balancing of apparent opposites, and that the specific realizations and experiences needed are different for each individual. Both presented the idea that not only individuals but humanity as a whole is gradually evolving toward unity, and that each individual has a unique and specific role to play in the evolution of humanity … and that this role can be understood by studying the individual’s birth chart as a “map” describing his or her place in the grand scheme of spiritual evolution. And finally, both approaches were predicated on the awareness that life is not a rare and isolated exception in an otherwise purely material and mechanical Universe, but that in fact the Universe itself is alive, and that it unfolds in an orderly way because it expresses the qualities of will, purpose and intelligence, even in its apparently “material” aspects.
Evolutionary vs. Transpersonal Astrology
In contrasting the ideas of evolutionary astrology with the purely personal approach of predictive or personality-centered astrology, it is tempting to refer to it as Transpersonal astrology, and some astrologers have drawn this distinction. At one stage of his development, Dane Rudhyar described himself as a transpersonal astrologer. But this misses the real point, because spiritual evolution includes both the personal and transpersonal levels. If we consider the higher transpersonal levels as more “real” than the personality-centered awareness, then we will be afraid of “losing ourselves” as we gain greater awareness, as if we were merely drops of water that cease to exist as individual droplets when they join with the ocean. But this is a misunderstanding … our uniqueness is essential to the higher unity toward which we aspire.
When humanity as a whole has made the conscious evolutionary leap to the “global consciousness” of human unity — or even planetary unity, recognizing all life on earth as a single organism — this awareness will not exclude the personal, but will rather include it within a larger context. We will not lose our personal identities, we will simply no longer be trapped within them. Yet this fear — the fear of ego-death — is the strongest force that holds us back from reaching the higher levels of awareness that the Aquarian Age is pulling us toward, and which we can all see is a necessary step if we are to avoid the destruction in chaos that our competitive and ego-centered worldview is rapidly leading us toward. As astrologer Jeffrey Wolf Green puts it:
… in reality most people do have this [global consciousness] level of awareness in varying degrees due to the media. The common person in all lands truly desires peace and an extension of goodwill toward all. Yet, the people who are in power in the dominant governments of this world are creating policies that lead in just the reverse directions, while paying lip service to the concerns of the people they lead.
— Jeffrey Wolf Green, Pluto, the Evolutionary Journey of the Soul, Volume 1
These “people who are in power” are driven by this fear of loss, and thus they cling tenaciously to the old concepts of competition and dominance, even when these concepts are no longer viable as a way of structuring human society.
Evolutionary Astrology and Reincarnation
Evolutionary astrology depends on the concept of evolution in a larger context than the life of an individual human being, and much of it depends specifically on the idea of reincarnation. Like many spiritual concepts, however, reincarnation can be a limiting belief if it is taken too literally as a linear succession of physical embodiments by a single soul. There are actually many ways of conceiving the ideas of soul evolution that are not dependent on such a literal view of reincarnation. For example, Dane Rudhyar remained agnostic on the idea of sequential embodiment, and leaned toward a “genetic memory” view of reincarnation. Another approach holds that since time itself is not an absolute, it is quite possible that one’s “past life” is in the future … that incarnations can skip around freely in time, rather than following one after another. Yet another view is that since we are all connected at the deeper levels of being, our collective unconscious holds memories of all lifetimes of everyone — thus our valid “past life” memories can actually be memories of anyone who ever lived!
In the discussions that follow (especially in Parts 2 and 3 of this three-part series), we will speak of reincarnation as if the traditional view of successive embodiments were a fact, because it is the easiest way to understand many of the concepts. However, if your own view of reincarnation does not coincide with this, it does not follow that you cannot “believe” in evolutionary astrology.
As evolutionary astrologer Nikki Fay puts it:
If you do not hold a belief in … reincarnation, you may be able to translate the paradigm into the realm of genetic memory, God’s will or whatever works for you. There are no rules here, just an outlook of a “plan” and a “memory.”
— Nikki Fay, http://www.visualastrology.com/
Contemporary Schools of Thought
Following the writings of Dane Rudhyar and Alice Bailey, a number of astrological writers have contributed to the development of what we know today as evolutionary astrology (including Linda Goodman, who was one of the most influential writers to popularize the awareness of the Aquarian Age and the coming global shift in consciousness). Foremost among the contemporary astrologers who have developed the evolutionary astrology paradigm are Jeffrey Wolf Green, whose School of Evolutionary Astrology builds on the work of Dane Rudhyar, and Alan Oken, whose books and teachings expand and elaborate on the Esoteric Astrology of Alice Bailey.
After the publication in 1996 of Jeffrey Wolf Green’s enormously popular work, Pluto, The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul, Volume I, Green joined with astrologer Steven Forrest to write Measuring the Night: Evolutionary Astrology and the Keys to the Soul, and to create a network of students and teachers focused on evolutionary astrology. Their joint “definition” of evolutionary astrology is posted on Steven Forrest’s website:
What is Evolutionary Astrology?
Evolutionary Astrology embraces paradigms and methodologies which specifically measure the growth of the soul from life to life. These methods invariably focus on the planet Pluto and its relationship to the Nodal Axis. While it is composed of a set of specific formal methodologies, evolutionary astrology is ultimately characterized less by a technical approach than by a set of philosophical principles defined by natural law. Different evolutionary astrologers may use somewhat different interpretive methods, but they can always be recognized by a devotion to the following core perceptions:
Copyright ©2000, Steven Forrest and Jeffrey Wolf Green
- An acceptance of the fact that human beings incarnate in a succession of lifetimes.
- An acceptance of the fact that the birthchart reflects the evolutionary condition of the soul at the moment of incarnation.
- An acceptance of the fact that the birthchart reflects the evolutionary intentions of the soul for the present life.
- An acceptance of the fact that the circumstances of the present life, both materially and psychologically, do not arise randomly, but rather reflect the evolutionary intentions and necessities of the soul.
- An acceptance of the fact that human beings interact creatively and unpredictably with their birthcharts; that all astrological symbols are multi-dimensional and are modulated into material and psychic expression by the consciousness of the individual.
- An acceptance of the fact that human beings are responsible for the realities they experience, both internally and externally.
- A respectful intention to accept and support a person seeking astrological help, no matter the evolutionary state in which such an individual finds himself or herself.
Again, coming from a very different framework of specific techniques, Alan Oken’s Esoteric Astrology expresses remarkably similar aims and basic principles. In Soul-Centered Astrology, Oken writes:
The soul is a life force inside every being that exists beyond the limitations of time and space. From it originates the deep need to know more of the Truth and harmonize completely with Life. The process of the evolution of the soul extends over numerous lifetimes. The soul enters time and space and incarnates, in order to work on its evolution, and learns more about life, each time from a different angle. In each incarnation it adopts an Ego, an identity, and through this identity it adapts to the current environment. In each incarnation there are conditions, stressful and supportive, that promote evolution. Nothing in life is random, every single experience and circumstance serves the soul’s purpose of evolution.
— Alan Oken, Soul-Centered Astrology
Interpretive Techniques of Evolutionary Astrology
While the basic ideas and philosophical framework of evolutionary astrology are consistent themes among all the astrologers we’ve discussed so far, the specific interpretive techniques they employ differ greatly. For example, Dane Rudhyar places great emphasis on the relationship between the Sun and the Moon in the birth chart, especially as reflected in the Part of Fortune, to determine the evolutionary state and direction of the individual. Jeffrey Wolf Green focuses on Pluto and its relationship with the Nodal Axis (North/South Lunar nodes) as representing the evolutionary intention of the soul in a given incarnation. Alan Oken has developed a set of interpretive techniques that combine the astrological signs and the Seven Ray energies to determine the level of evolutionary consciousness that acts through the traditional influences of the planets.
The remaining articles in this series will discuss all of these specific techniques to provide some concrete approaches to using evolutionary astrology in practical chart interpretation. Part 2 will focus especially on the techniques of Dane Rudhyar and Jeffrey Wolf Green, while Part 3 will present the esoteric interpretive methods of Alice Bailey and Alan Oken.
Pluto: The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul, by Jeffrey Wolf Green
Measuring the Night: Evolutionary Astrology and the Keys to the Soul, by Steven Forrest and Jeffrey Wolf Green
Soul-Centered Astrology, by Alan Oken
Esoteric Astrology, by Alice Bailey
In Part 1 of this series we looked at the underpinnings of evolutionary astrology — the idea that the birth chart represents a map of the soul’s progressive development or evolution through a series of progressive incarnations on the physical plane, with the present lifetime being only one stage of an evolutionary process aimed ultimately at reunion with God. Seen from this perspective, the concepts of karma and destiny are seen not as external compulsions that override free will, but as expressions of a cosmic “lesson plan” that the soul has established in order to gain the experiences needed to grow spiritually in this lifetime.
As promised, the second and third articles will examine the specific astrological techniques of the two major schools of thought that have carried this evolutionary paradigm into modern astrology:
- The Evolutionary Astrology of Jeffrey Wolf Green (and later Steven Forrest), which builds on and extends the work of Dane Rudhyar
- The Esoteric Astrology popularized by theosophical writer Alice Baily and further developed by many others, most notably Alan Oken.
In drawing this distinction I do not mean to imply that these two directions are incompatible or at odds with one another. In fact, Dane Rudhyar was greatly influenced by the theosophical movement and considered himself a part of it, although his writings tended to express the Western astrological and philosophical tradition more than the Eastern tradition favored by the leading Theosophists of the day. Likewise, Jeffrey Wolf Green’s groundbreaking work “Pluto: The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul” includes a foreword by Esoteric Astrologer Alan Oken that highly praises Jeffrey’s contributions to the astrological understanding of soul development.
Still, in terms of specific techniques the two approaches differ considerably. The Esoteric Astrology approach draws heavily on theosophical concepts like the Seven Rays and Twelve Creative Hierarchies, and uses a system of “esoteric” planetary rulers that are different from the familiar ruling planets of traditional astrology. (For example, the traditional ruling planet of Aries is Mars, while its esoteric ruler is said to be Mercury.) In contrast, the School of Evolutionary Astrology founded by Jeffrey Wolf Green and Steven Forrest stays within the familiar framework of traditional astrological symbolism while assigning unique evolutionary significance to the planet Pluto and the north and south Lunar nodes. As a result, it makes sense to examine the two approaches separately to avoid confusion.
Pluto and the Lunar nodes
The cornerstone of Jeffrey Wolf Green’s Evolutionary Astrology approach is the understanding that the planet Pluto represents the human Soul, and that its position in the natal chart represents the individual’s evolutionary intention for this lifetime. In this view, the planet Saturn represents the outer limits of the conscious individuality … thus the planets Mercury through Saturn, all that were known to the ancients, represent all that can be known about the life of a person considered as an isolated individual within a single lifespan. The outer planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, discovered in relatively recent times, represent transcendental aspects of the individual … those which begin to emerge as our consciousness expands beyond the limits of the observable physical plane. Uranus represents the unconscious “inner” reality of the individual, while Neptune represents the collective unconscious that is shared among all individuals, and Pluto represents the Soul itself — that aspect of the individual that survives physical death and grows continuously by incarnating successively into different lifetimes to gain the experiences needed to evolve spiritually.
Of coequal importance in assessing the evolutionary life plan of the individual is the nodal axis — the opposition between the North Node and the South Node in the horoscope. While the house and sign in which Pluto appears indicates the evolutionary intention of the soul for this lifetime, the North and South Nodes describe how the individual intends to actualize that intention, the specific modes of operation through which the soul’s intention will be pursued.
Before going any further, it may be worthwhile to consider the idea of evolutionary intention and what it means. In common with most spiritual traditions, evolutionary astrology holds that there are just two basic drives in the Universe — the drive to separate from the original Unity (God) that is the Source of all, and the drive to return to the Source of creation. As unique individuals, we experience the interaction between these two basic drives or desires in many, many different ways, and the complexity of these interactions is what creates the drama of individual personality and the unique evolutionary journey of each soul. We exist as individuals because of our desire for separation — the desire to experience “the world” as unique points of consciousness, different from all others. And because the range of possible experience is infinite, we gradually differentiate ourselves more and more, until we come to experience ourselves as truly separate, knowing our original unity, if at all, only as an abstract idea. And yet, with each individual separative desire we pursue, we also experience the loss of that original unity and the desire to find our way back “home.” But precisely because we have become so differentiated, our desire for return to union with the Source takes many different forms, and these different forms gives rise to yet more experiences, which in turn result in more perceptions of what we “need.” This complex of desires, experiences and needs determine the actions we will take, and the actions have reactions that create new perceptions of what we need, and on and on. This complicated stream of desires, actions and reactions leading to new desires, actions and reactions is what we call karma. Karma is not something imposed on us, but is rather the result of our own desires acting in response to our experiences. We do have free will, but our will is conditioned by our desires, and our desires are conditioned by our experiences. As the old saying goes, “we can do what we please, but can we please what we please?” In most cases we cannot … our desires are experienced as a “given,” and result from a long history of previous choices and the experiences that resulted from those choices.
In the broadest sense, the evolutionary intention of every being is to return to union with the Source: involution is the process of separation, while evolution is the process of integration, of moving toward Oneness. But because our individual histories, experiences and desires are so varied, the experiences that each of us needs to gain in order to move closer to that goal are unique. Thus in any given lifetime, our evolutionary intention is to gain the specific experiences we most need to overcome the action-reaction desires and behaviors that keep us in a state of separation. Simply put the process of evolution is one of gradually eliminating the separative desires by understanding them.
The evolutionary astrology model
The practical idea behind evolutionary astrology is that by making us aware of our soul’s evolutionary intention in this lifetime (which may not be at all the same as our consciousgoals and intentions), we are far better able to cooperate with that intention and help it to succeed … thus consciously assisting our own spiritual evolution. The primary tools at our disposal for ferreting out this evolutionary intention from the birth chart include the position, by house and sign, of Pluto and the North Node, as well as the polarity point (180 degrees opposite) of Pluto. In terms of evolutionary intent, all the other factors of the chart can be gauged in terms of their relationship to Pluto and the nodal axis.
As a factor present in the chart at the moment of birth, Pluto represents the soul’s evolutionary intention arising from past-life experiences. That is, it shows not so much how the individual will develop in this lifetime, but rather what sHe brings into this life … what might be considered the “unfinished business” of the past, and the soul’s primary intention is to handle these unresolved issues before moving on. The polarity point of Pluto, on the other hand, is an indication of the resolution being aimed for. Typically the evolutionary drives shown by Pluto dominate the chart until the first Saturn Return, which occurs around age 29, at which point the individual who has successfully integrated these karmic lessons can bring some degree of resolution to the conflicts implied, with the nature of this integration shown in Pluto’s polarity point. At this point, the individual is able to relate to this area of experience in a way that supports the evolutionary movement toward union rather than separation. (Of course it is also possible that the individual will not successfully fulfill this karmic necessity by the first Saturn return, in which case it will continue to dominate the life path until it is handled.)
Precisely how this evolutionary imperative will be enacted is shown in the house and sign of the nodal axis. Here the South Node indicates the strategies and mode of operation the individual brings into this lifetime, while the North Node indicates the evolutionary imperative of lessons to be learned in the future. As such, the operating modes shown by the South Node are those that seem most “natural” to the individual … natural because they represent the very patterns used to deal with these issues in the past. Therefore they seem intuitively “right,” and the individual is comfortable in using them. The direction of evolutionary pressure, however, is toward the approaches shown by the North Node, and these will seem challenging and may in fact be strongly resisted. It is always more comfortable to deal with things in ways that are familiar and predictable, but it is precisely this challenge of letting go of the old and familiar to grow into new ways of understanding and acting that is the point of evolutionary growth.
To put these abstract notions into a concrete frame of reference, let’s take a look at their practical application in the chart of Jeffrey Wolf Green himself. (To my knowledge Jeffrey has not listed his birth data in any of his books, but since he freely shared it in teaching discussions with students, I’m sure he won’t mind my showing it here.)
Here we can see that Pluto is near the top of the chart, in the ninth house, while the North Node is in the seventh house and the South Node in the first. Incidentally, it’s worth noting here that we look primarily to the house position rather than the sign, although the sign is obviously significant as well. Pluto is a slow-moving generational planet, so that everyone born within a long period — anywhere from 12 to 32 years, depending on the point that Pluto is occupying in its elliptical orbit — will have Pluto in the same sign. Its house position, however, moves through all 12 signs each day, making this a more individual expression.
Looking first to the position of Pluto, its ninth house placement indicates an evolutionary intention focused on religious and philosophical issues, and on teaching. We can see that Jeffrey came into this life with a strong desire to comprehend and communicate the deepest philosophical understandings, a drive to resolve the unanswered questions relating to the meaning and purpose of life. With the South Node in the first house of self, his natural mode of operation in satisfying this intention, from a past-life point of view, would be to maintain his own independence in order to seek “objective” answers to his cosmological questions, putting stock in no one but himself and his own experiences. He would not have joined study groups or followed any teachers, but would have insisted on remaining free of external influences in order to take any actions or follow any lines of thought he deemed necessary in his quest for Truth. (In fact, he once told a questioner that “all the astrology that I have ‘learned’ has come thru either meditational states, or thru dreams.”)
However, as shown by the North Node in the seventh house of relationship, he would eventually become frustrated with this “loner” mode of seeking carried over from past-life experiences, and would increasingly seek to fulfill his evolutionary intention by taking the less comfortable and secure path of sharing and developing his ideas with a community(third house polarity point of Pluto) of seekers. He would also learn that to truly grow in understanding it was necessary to experience the life situations of others from their ownpoints of view, rather than from some theoretically objective perspective. (Not long after his first Saturn return, Jeffrey began teaching evolutionary astrology to small study groups, gradually expanding to giving workshops and classes at astrological conferences and eventually founding his own school … thus transforming himself from the lone seeker to the group teacher, and learning the value of relationship and community in the quest for Truth.)
Of course this is a vastly simplified analysis, but it shows the fundamental tenets of the evolutionary astrology model in chart analysis. In a thorough chart interpretation, an evolutionary astrologer would consider many other factors, but they would all relate to the Pluto/North Node relationship as the central determining factors of evolutionary intent.
To briefly outline the wider range of techniques used in this school of evolutionary astrology, here is a simplified “check-list” of steps that might be taken to analyze an individual chart:
- Start with the house placement of Pluto to determine the primary evolutionary intention carried over from past lives.
- Refine this understanding by looking at Pluto’s polarity point to determine the direction in which this carried-over intention will be developed.
- Look at the house position of the North Node to determine the specific actions or modes of operation to be used in fulfilling the evolutionary intention.
- Refine this general understanding by looking at the ruling planet of the house occupied by Pluto, its polarity point, and the North and South nodes. These influences facilitate the evolutionary intention and the modes of operation, supporting or challenging them and giving them the unique “flavor” of the ruling planets.
- Look at the aspects made by other planets in the chart to the nodal axis. These planets have played a major role in shaping the individual’s karmic situation, and therefore help us to understand the past-life issues carried forward into the present lifetime.
- Look at the aspects made by other planets in the chart to Pluto. The areas of life-expression represented by planets strongly aspecting Pluto are subject to an intensified evolutionary metamorphosis in this lifetime. In addition the number of planets in strong aspect to Pluto indicates the intensity of the evolutionary drive in this lifetime.
- Look at the timing of Pluto transits to natal planets to determine when the areas of life-expression represented by those planets will undergo an impulse of evolutionary metamorphosis and transformation. Pluto transiting a natal planet will always result in a major transformation in the areas ruled by that planet, and this transformation can be a smooth transition if one is prepared for and cooperates with it — or a cataclysmic upheaval if one attempts to resist change and cling to the status quo.
Even this list is a great simplification of the process of interpreting a chart in terms of evolutionary astrology, and merely outlines the bare bones of the crucial factors. Of great importance, and entirely beyond the scope of a single article such as this, is the subject of counseling. To provide a client with meaningful insights requires not only a deep familiarity with the applicable archetypes and symbolism of the chart, but also a great deal of empathy as well as a fair amount of detective work to ferret out the individual’s current evolutionary condition. This is a facet of interpretation that cannot be revealed by the chart alone, but must be pieced together by looking at the individual’s life experiences, attitudes and other subjective factors. The same astrological configuration can mean something very different, for example, to an individual who is in a mass consciousness evolutionary state (that is, the comparatively unquestioning “follow the leader” mentality expressed by a majority of individuals), compared to one who is in a highly individuated state and consciously working on personal evolution with deliberate intention. Developing the ability to interpret and counsel at this level takes a lot of work and study, but for those whose own evolutionary imperative moves them in this direction it is an immensely fascinating and rewarding study.
For more information about Evolutionary Astrology as developed by Jeffrey Wolf Green and Steven Forrest, I heartily recommend Volumes 1 and 2 of Pluto, the Evolutionary Journey of the Soul as the best starting point. Although Jeffrey himself is not currently avaiable for public communication due to illness, his School of Evolutionary Astrology is actively operating under the direction of his senior student Kim Marie. You can get more information about the school and other Evolutionary Astrology learning materials, as well as a worldwide directory of practicing Evolutionary Astrologers, at http://www.evolutionaryastrology.net.
In this final article of the series, we’ll look at the system of evolutionary astrology whose most prominent contemporary teacher is Alan Oken. This system is more commonly referred to as Esoteric Astrology or Soul-Centered Astrology, but it certainly falls within the realm of what we have been calling Evolutionary Astrology in this series of articles, in that it focuses on the development of the soul over a succession of individual lifetimes, and on the relationship between the spiritual progress of the individual soul and the conscious evolution of humanity as a whole.
Esoteric or soul-centered astrology has its roots in the western metaphysical tradition known as Hermetic philosophy. While the original roots of the Hermetic wisdom are lost in the mists of time, it has been handed down through secret societies at least since the time of ancient Egypt, and is thought to have been the basis of the “Mystery Schools” of initiation that flourished in Egypt and pre-Christian Greece. Throughout much of recent history it was suppressed (in part by the Church, which branded it as heresy) and handed down from disciple to disciple through secret societies and occult schools. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it re-surfaced through such groups as the Rosicrucians, the Brotherhood of Light, and the writings of metaphysical teachers like Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Rudolf Steiner. At the center of this occult renaissance was Madame H. P. Blavatsky, whose monumental work The Secret Doctrine attracted spiritual thinkers and practitioners worldwide and served as the seed of the Theosophical movement.
Theosophist Alice Bailey provided the most complete presentation of the astrological system taught by this school in her book,Esoteric Astrology, channeling the Tibetan Master Djwhal Khul. One of its seed ideas is that the horoscope maps both the lower Personality and the higher Soul intentions of an individual, and that the key to personal spiritual evolution is the linking of these two aspects, allowing the Soul level to “exteriorize” into the Personality level, thus aligning the physical personality with the higher spiritual intentions of the soul. The process of linking these two aspects of the self is known as building the Rainbow bridge.
Personality and Soul Evolution
Like other schools of evolutionary astrology, esoteric astrology proceeds from the view that the Soul is the eternal being that incarnates into a body. While the physical body and its personality last for but a single lifetime, the Soul has many incarnations, learning from each lifetime the lessons needed to fulfill its unique purpose. It is the Soul’s evolutionary direction to manifest its spiritual nature on the physical plane; the evolutionary task of the individual is to integrate and harmonize the personality in order to align it to the Soul’s intention, thus becoming a vehicle for the expression of spirit. This is a two-step process that consists of:
- Integrating the lower self or personality
- Linking the integrated personality with the Soul
In order to accomplish this linkage, it is necessary to understand both the personality and the soul intentions. Both are revealed in the natal chart, by interpreting its symbols in different ways. The personality is interpreted according to the familiar rules of exoteric astrology, while the soul level uses modified interpretations and different astrological rulers for the zodiac signs, as shown in the diagram above.
In addition, esoteric astrology uses another set of symbols known as the Seven Rays to amplify and shed additional light on the astrological signs, planets and houses. A thorough discussion of the Seven Rays is entirely beyond the scope of this article, as it is a detailed and highly developed metaphysical system in its own right, about which hundreds of books have been written. A good starting point for further investigation is Alan Oken’s Soul-Centered Astrology. For those not easily daunted, a complete presentation of the system is contained in Alice Bailey’s five-volume Treatise on the Seven Rays, of which Esoteric Astrology is the middle volume. The complete text of these books is available online at this link: Works by Alice Bailey and Djwhal Khul. A simplified listing of the rays with some of their important attributes is shown below:
|3||Active Intelligence||Saturn, Earth||Throat|
|4||Harmony Through Conflict||Mercury, Moon||Root|
|5||Concrete Knowledge||Venus||Brow (third eye)|
|6||Devotion/Idealism||Neptune, Mars||Solar Plexus|
The rays also express through the 12 signs of the zodiac, with each ray specifically influencing three signs, both exoterically and in soul-centered terms. The following table shows these influences and relates them to the traditional and esoteric rulers of each sign:
|Sign||Ray||Traditional Ruler||Ray||Esoteric Ruler||Ray|
|Scorpio||4||Pluto, Mars||1, 6||Mars||6|
On the personality level, the rays and esoteric rulers can be used to enhance and deepen the understanding of each placement in the horoscope by house. For example, if Gemini is on the cusp of the 6th house, the Second Ray of Love/Wisdom (the personality-centered ray that expresses through Gemini) can be understood to be working through the intellectual and communication-oriented qualities of Gemini in all matters related to the 6th house in that chart. You could therefore expect that blending and harmonizing opposites through communication would be a prominent goal of all 6th-house activities in that person’s life.
On the soul-centered level, you would look at the esoteric ruler and ray. For Gemini, this would be the planet Venus and the Fifth Ray of Concrete Knowledge. As mentioned earlier, the esoteric meanings of the planets are somewhat different from the traditional personality-centered interpretations, although related in essence. In the case of Venus, for example, the planet of love and beauty in traditional astrology, its esoteric significance is the emergence of the principle of Divine Love through the focused spiritual Will. Its function is to link the higher and lower mental faculties, thus turning knowledge into wisdom.
We can carry this farther by examining the Ray-quality of the ruling planet of the house, both exoteric and esoteric. For example, if the Sun is in the 10th house with Leo on the cusp, then it is in the house ruled by itself, and the ray-qualities One and Seven will strongly color the personality expressed through the Sun. Esoterically, the ruler of the Leo 10th house is also the Sun, so this placement would show the karmic influences on 10th-house matters to also be aligned with First- and Seventh-Ray intentions.
Here is where a comparison can be made between the outer personality drives and the karmic conditions that reflect the soul intentions. Simplistically, we could say that our soul’s “reason for being here” in this particular incarnation is to express the intentions shown by the ray of the esoteric ruler, while our physical personality is pursuing the agenda signified by the ray of the exoteric ruler! These agendas can be aligned, as in the example of the Sun in a Leo-ruled 10th house above, or out of step with each other, as for example a Fourth-Ray Harmony Through Conflict karmic intention and a Sixth-RayDevotion/Idealism personality expression.
In this second case, the individual might consciously seek to pursue a path of passive discipleship or contemplation, but find that it fails to lead to the inner peace desired. By becoming aware of the Fourth-Ray soul intention, the individual might be empowered to align the personality and soul intentions in any number of ways ... perhaps by realizing that the expectations one had for the peace that would follow from devotion to a particular path or guru were unrealistic, and that only by experiencing and accepting the “conflict” between expectations and results would it be possible to detach from expectations and thus arrive at the peace and harmony that were the original goals.
Of course, the intuition is of paramount importance in drawing such inferences, and the development of such intuition with regard to soul intentions is at least as important as the formal rules and attributions. Esoteric astrology is an enormously large and detailed study (the Alice Bailey volumes on the subect alone comprise well over 5,000 pages of densely packed information!) To present even the most abbreviated listing of all the esoteric interpretations of signs, planets, houses and rays is far beyond the scope of this brief article, and developing the mindset and intuition to combine these factors in meaningful interpretations is a major study in itself. The “big picture” view of esoteric chart interpretation, however, can be summarized in a few points:
- First interpret the chart according to traditional astrology, with the addition of the influences of the Seven Rays. This provides an understanding of the individual at the personality level — that is, the physical personality in this particular incarnation. In general, the less evolved the consciousness, the more important the position of the planets by houses will be, since the houses relate specifically the “departments” of life that express in the outer world.
- The Sun sign and its exoteric rulers show the major themes of the personality for the present incarnation. The primary ray of the Sun sign reveals much about the nature of the personality.
- The rising sign and the esoteric rulers of the signs and houses show the spiritual goals of this incarnation.
- Compare and contrast the horoscope of the Sun sign and the exoteric planetary rulers with that of the Ascendant and the esoteric planetary rulers to see the relationship of the soul and the personality. Analyzing the relationships between the exoteric and esoteric factors shows whether the outer personality is aligned with the karmic life purposes of the soul, and the kinds of thoughts and actions needed to bring them into closer alignment.
The Goal of Esoteric Astrology
The goal of esoteric astrology is to provide insight into the relationship between the soul and the personality, in order to integrate the personality and align it with the soul intentions. Contained in this is the implication of a transformation of consciousness that involves shifting one’s primary sense of identity from the primarily ego-centered and separative personality to the spiritually-centered and integrative soul. In the understanding of esoteric astrology, as in other approaches to evolutionary astrology, this step, while available to extraordinary souls throughout human history, is one that is of important to all of humankind at this moment of unfolding consciousness, for humanity as a whole is at a stage of evolution in which the emergence of a spiritual consciousness on Earth is critical to the survival and continued growth of the human species.
And, we are indeed at a stage where more and more people are rapidly evolving, integrating, and seeing the birth of a global spiritual consciousness. It is our destiny to bring spirit into manifestation on the physical plane. In a collective sense, that is the “reason for being here” of all of us incarnated at this time. As with all major shifts in consciousness, it is not an easy process, as the conflicts and crises of this time amply demonstrate. As Linda Goodman was fond of saying, sadness rhymes with gladness, and light attracts darkness.
This is a universal phenomenon, and times of transition are always difficult, but in the present situation there is a particular danger that is worth noting for all of us who aspire to spiritual transformation, and that is that the greatest danger to the the peaceful emergence of spiritual consciousness in the world does not come from those with unevolved souls who have not achieved any degree of personal integration, but rather from those who have advanced significantly along the path ... but have not yet linked the integrated personality to the soul. Such individuals have the awareness and power to attune to universal energies, but lack the identification with the spiritual power of Love. They therefore strive to pervert metaphysical and spiritual energies to the service of personal thoughts, desires and physical goals. As Alan Oken describes this danger in Soul-Centered Astrology,
“The stronger the ego in question, the greater the negative vortex, and more important, the greater the urge to create the universe in its own limited and exclusive image. All too often during the history of humanity, this has resulted in the attempt to dominate the will, intelligence and emotions of others. This is the intrinsic nature and structure of evil...
“Until each individual member of humanity recognizes his or her wholeness and at-one-ment with the Soul (and eventually , the unity of these individual Souls into the Soul of Humanity), such a polarization of so-called good and evil will continue to exist. It is the goal of this Aquarian Age to plant the seeds of this individualization so that the Soul focus of humanity may eventually exteriorize. The aim of esoteric, Soul-centered astrology is to provide a distinct tool to monitor the energies and cycles of this process at this critical, transitional time in human history.”
— Alan Oken, Soul-Centered Astrology