Yesterday’s Sky

December 29, 2008

Below is the introduction to my new book, Yesterday’s Sky. It pretty well summarizes where my heart is relative to astrology at this point in my life. To me, the rigidly predictive, “delineating” kinds of astrology are simply boring. They lack the dynamism of change and evolution. They fail to reflect the quantum realities of the emerging world view. My own work has attempted to weave together three strands of thinking, which sometimes exist in tension with each other: a universe defined by free will, Jungian styles of psychological thinking, and Buddhism. The construction creaks and groans a buit, but it seems to work really well in that ultimate test bed: sitting with a client!

MY SECOND WIND

Lucky me—in my fiftieth year I caught a second wind. Like most writers, my youth was a paradise of inspiration. Visions seemed to coalesce out of thin air, cloaked in feelings of earth-shaking significance. Doubtless, I proudly re-invented the wheel many times. But fresh ideas, plus excitement and energy enough to execute them, were thick as pollen in the springtime air. I was on a roll.

And the universe cooperated spectacularly: In my early thirties, I signed a contract with Bantam Books.  My popular “Sky” trilogy emerged out of those merry days—The Inner Sky, The Changing Sky, and, with my then-new wife, Jodie Forrest, the original Skymates, (since re-written in two volumes.)  By then I had essentially laid the foundation of the rest of my life’s work—or so I thought.

My inward orientation had always been metaphysical, more than my early books reflected. Little did I know how far those tidal currents would carry me. As I recount in the coming pages, when I was about twelve I had encountered the work of the famous psychic Edgar Cayce,. Based on his teaching, the evolution of consciousness through successive lifetimes was my belief even as a teenager, even though I attended a Protestant church. I wanted to write my first book, The Inner Sky, along those philosophical lines. Trouble was, in those days in the New York publishing scene, spirituality was still seen as a marginal topic. I was told to go lightly on the word “soul,” if I had to use it at all. I snuck a few references to prior lifetimes into that volume, buried about two hundred pages deep. That was all I could do.

Thus it remained for many good years. I was essentially a psychological astrologer, placing a big emphasis on the power of choice and personal responsibility, and fighting the good war against the astrological fatalists. I presented my work against the metaphysical backdrop of the evolving soul, spiced it with vague references to past lives. Gradually, in my private work with clients, my sense of the relevance of prior-life dynamics to present-life challenges and circumstances was becoming clearer. Still, my public persona in the astrological world was over-shadowed by the Sky trilogy and its essentially psychological perspective.

Then along came Jeffrey Wolf Green—and my second wind.  Jeff’s techniques were, and still are, quite dissimilar from mine. And a more different human being than me would have been tough to find. But we quickly realized that we were coming at the same questions and working from the same assumptions. In an interview in The Mountain Astrologer (issue #94, Dec. 2000/Jan 2001)), Hadley Fitzgerald asked Jeff point blank about any differences between us regarding our point of view on astrology. Jeff responded, “Nothing. We’re saying the same thing in different ways. I can’t even imagine where there’d be something of a conflicting nature.”

Jeff and I had both been quite successful as astrological authors and we both tended to draw big audiences at the astrological conferences.  Comparatively, he was much more of a maverick—his time in combat as a Marine in Viet Nam had left its mark on his style and his reflexes. We each had the natal Moon in the fourth house—and few people could believe mine was in Aries and his, in Pisces. With Jeff’s more combative exterior and my comparitively diplomatic one, it seemed the other way around.  But we bonded, and certainly for me, Jeff’s work was like the yeast in my bread. To me, it felt like we had each been holding half the deck of cards.

Two books came out of our friendship, Measuring the Night, Volumes One and Two. They were based on transcripts of a series of talks we gave together in California and Arizona in the late 1990s. For many people, the publication of those works marks the emergence of Evolutionary Astrology as a distinct, widely-recognized, and influential branch of modern astrology, something bigger than the work of an individual. In fairness, years earlier Raymond Merriman had already published a volume entitled  Evolutionary Astrology: The Journey of the Soul Through States of Consciousness. Neither Jeff nor I knew of his work—it first came out in a limited edition of 1440 copies of a hand-written original in 1977.  Like ours, Ray’s approach was also centered on reincarnation, although his techniques were as distinct as mine were from Jeff’s. Still, Ray Merriman, so far as I know, is the one who can rightly lay claim to originating the term, Evolutionary Astrology. Strangely, Jeff and I had also independently been using the same term at least since the early 1980s. And others, notably Stephen Arroyo and Tad Mann, had been working in approximately similar philosophical territory. Simply said, a synchronistic wave was passing through the collective and many of us surfed it. In private communications with both Ray and Jeff, it has become clear to me that, while we all want the record straight, none of us are feeling proprietary about the term, Evolutionary Astrology. It is bigger than any of us, and we all recognize that. In my own mind, anyone who speaks simultaneously of astrology and of the evolution of consciousness through many lifetimes, and frames it in a context of free will, is an evolutionary astrologer.

 

I learned a lot from Jeff Green, and much of what I learned came more from a kind of soul-transfusion than from technical exchanges. One of his gifts to me was his knack for presenting this kind of astrology unabashedly, without apologies or the need to win friends in academia.  Technically, most of what I got from Jeff was a deeper sense of the importance of planets in aspect to the nodes of the Moon, and of planetary rulerships in connection to them. Those of you reading these pages who have cut your teeth on Jeff’s “Pluto School” style of astrology will see that the techniques I am about to introduce are quite dissimilar. For one thing, Pluto does not play so central a role in my work, although it is profoundly important in its own way. For another, I’ve not done much with the phase relationships of planets to each other, nor with polarity points. I have no disagreement with Jeff about any of these techniques. It’s just that my own work has gone down different roads.

Different roads that lead into a glittering, seemingly endless gold field! Adding this philosophical perspective—and its attendant bag of tricks—to basic psychological astrology is like closing a wish-list recipe book and sitting down at a five star restaurant in Provence. Some of my “second wind” comes from the sheer exhilaration I feel just thinking of what remains to be discovered.  Evolutionary Astrology, quite emphatically, is a work in progress. Many of us are now working in the field, exploring in different directions. These different directions all seem productive—and more complimentary than contradictory. No one has truly put it all together yet. That is the work of the next generation—or two.

Already, I feel that Evolutionary Astrology is by far the most accurate form of “psychological” astrology ever devised. I have come to believe that unresolved prior-life dynamics play a far more pivotal role in shaping the adult psyche than do misadventures in potty training in the so-called “formative” years of childhood. I value psychological astrology very highly—in fact, one could define Evolutionary Astrology quite succinctly as a form of psychological astrology which is integrated with metaphysics.  Where a twentieth century psychological astrologer might focus on the dynamics of childhood, the evolutionary astrologer focuses on the childhood of the soul—prior lifetimes, and the issues left unresolved from them. It is a sacred psychology, in other words. But it is also a demonstrable one, grounded in observable, present-life realities. There is nothing flaky here—Evolutionary Astrology is as hard-hitting and clear as a laser beam. If your experience is anything like my own, once you have grasped its basic concepts you will never look at a chart the same way again.

 

I could never have played my role in the development of Evolutionary Astrology had I not been exposed to teachers outside the astrological world. Basically, the state of the astrology I encountered as a young man forty years ago, while technically advanced, reflected no overriding philosophical framework or purpose. It was basically descriptive. I had to turn elsewhere in order to put astrology into a larger context of meaning. Earlier I mentioned cutting my teeth on the work of Edgar Cayce, the “sleeping prophet.” If you’ve not heard of him, you will soon learn more. Above all, my understanding of reincarnation has been guided by the Buddha, his teachings, and the continuing fellowship of those who keep that flame burning. I have made an effort since my late teens to understand and practice that path, and I have been fortunate enough to sit with many living masters within that tradition. Yesterday’s Sky is not formally or overtly  “Buddhist literature,” but if anyone smiles at me conspiratorially and suggest as much, I will gladly wink back at them.

Buddhist notions of prior lives are quite subtle and complex. I avoid speculating on much of that richness in these pages, instead taking refuge in the simpler, more western notion of a reincarnating “soul.” As a westerner raised in the Christian tradition, I am comfortable speaking of God, where a Buddhist might prefer the less personalized notion of the dharmakaya.  Often Buddhism is described as an atheistic religion.  More precisely, the Buddhist view is that the ultimate reality is beyond all specific qualities and descriptions.  To a sophisticated practitioner, insisting that the dharmakaya have the quality of “impersonality” is no more accurate than imputing “personality” to it.

Make of all that what you will.  If there is any core message in astrology, it would have to be a respect for human individuality. You can compose your own theological position papers, with my blessings. You certainly don’t need to be a Buddhist to understand this book. You don’t even really need to be convinced of reincarnation as a literal fact. As Carl Jung said in a lecture he gave in 1939,  “The mere fact that people talk about rebirth . . . . means that a store of psychic experiences designated by that term must actually exist.”

A reality, a metaphor—you decide.

So, if I have accomplished what I set out to do, you will not find my words particularly preachy . . .well, with one exception! I unabashedly preach the primacy of free will in shaping our experience. In some more “predictive” astrological circles, this is blasphemy. I am personally confident that we humans are capable of changing ourselves, capable of evolution. None of us is limited to a “nature” that is cast in stone by the positions of the planets. As we change ourselves, we make different choices and thus create a different future. The first words of the first chapter of my first book were, “People change.” I suspect that when I take my last breath, that faith in our capacity for self-transformation will still be there. Going further, I believe that most of the realities we experience in our lives are the result of the collision between our free-will and vast archetypal fields of astrological possibility. We make choices within that definable context. It is our “fate” to face that astrological context. Our freedom is to make choices within it.

Those of you who are familiar with the rest of my work have already heard me rant about the subject of personal freedom. I won’t belabor it here. I only bring it up because the notions of past lives and karma are so often represented as the ultimate in fatalistic determinism. (“You burned down someone’s house in 1492, so now your own house must burn down.”) Karma can work that way, but the mechanisms are often much more subtle. For one thing, karma is more likely to repeat than anything else—if you burned someone’s house down in 1492, you may still be burning down people’s houses today, just putting it all on your karmic VISA card!

More deeply, let me thank one of the finest living teachers of the Buddhist tradition, Dzoghen Ponlop Rinpoche. In “Turning Towards Liberation: The Four Reminders,” he quotes Patrul Rinpoche, who says that “the quantity of our negative or positive karma is very much connected to our thoughts, our motivations. If our motivation is pure and full of compassion, though the action may seem rather negative, the karma is still positive. If the motivation is not so pure, even when we seem gentle and kind, the karma is not so positive. This means the creation of positive or negative karma is very much within our mind.”

Consciousness, in astrology and in karmic matters, is the prime variable, in other words.It is not, after all, the physical body that reincarnates. It is the consciousness. Thus, throughout this book, while we will explore ways of learning about prior life dynamics, the focus will remain on healing and releasing ourselves through conscious work in the present tense. Very simply, the purpose of Evolutionary Astrology is to promote choices that support evolution. Prior-life post mortems are part of it—but only insofar as they help us clarify the questions we face in the present life.

 

Loudly and clearly, let me emphasize that all astrology is about symbolism, not literalism. We evolutionary astrologers cannot look at a chart and tell anyone definitively that she was once a 250 pound prize-fighter named Joe who fought in Philadelphia in the 1930s.  That is not what Evolutionary Astrology is all about. Like every astrologer operating in the psychological domain, we see images and metaphors. We believe they parallel the actual realities of prior lifetimes.

Failure to grasp this utterly simple notion has lead to a lot of needless bloodshed in the astrological world. Our detractors have claimed that “anyone could say anything about past lives and who could ever prove them wrong?” Fair enough—agreed!  But that kind of literalism is not where Evolutionary Astrology makes it stand. We make our stand in the present tense, where our perspectives can be compared directly with experienced reality. As William Faulkner put it, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” Our hypothesis is very simple and totally testable. In a nutshell, we believe that unresolved issues from prior lives, as revealed by these techniques you are about to learn, make themselves felt in the present lifetime. 

Listen to what your chart says about your prior lifetimes. Look at your present lifetime. If the horseshoe doesn’t hook the stake, forget about Evolutionary Astrology!

 

I’ve thanked Edgar Cayce, Jeffrey Wolf Green, and the Buddha.  My indebtedness extends much further. In 1998, in response to my second wind, I instituted my Astrological Apprenticeship Program. Several hundred students have now passed through it, and I am grateful to all of them. Each group meets twice a year for four days. The atmosphere is informal, but the work is rigorous and often quite emotional. That is because its essence is not abstract astrological theory. It is about the heart’s direct experience. We work with our own charts and with the reflected realities of our own lives. I cannot begin adequately to thank everyone who has been involved with the “AP.”  My own clarity and confidence regarding the material in this volume is their gift to me. The actual life-experiences of several hundred people provide an excellent reality-check, should my enthusiasm for an idea lead me too far afield from actual reality. I wish I could name everyone in the program here—they deserve it. Let me instead call your attention to the Directory of astrologers whom my wife and I have trained. You can find it here:

     http://www.sevenpawspress.com/index.php/Astrologer_Directory.html

Similarly, I want to express my gratitude to my private astrological clients. Once again, there is no reality check so effective as the look on a client’s face when you are veering off into fantasy land.

Finally, I want to thank the Integrative Medicine Foundation for providing the generous grant that allowed me the time to finish this book. Under the able guidance of Paige Ruane, Hadi Ali, and Patrick Kearney, the Foundation is doing brilliant, life-saving work exploring indigenous herbal wisdom in Africa and elsewhere. Underlying the paradigms of Integrative Medicine is the equilateral triangle of body, mind, and spirit.  Paige, Hadi and Patrick recognized that Evolutionary Astrology can provide powerful support to the health of mind and spirit, and thus decided to help me bring this book to fruition.

 

So fasten your seatbelts. Behind your familiar birthchart lurks another chart entirely, one whose existence you may never have suspected. It carries your treasures and your wounds. Where the predictions of your chart and the realities of your life might not in all honesty have lined up quite precisely, this chart-behind-the-chart will help you see why.

I count myself very fortunate, here in my sixtieth year, to have found a way of looking at our inner skies which restores to me the kind of astrological excitement I felt when I was nineteen. I hope that what you read in the following pages benefits you as much as it has benefitted me.

 

Steven Forrest

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Spring Equinox, 2008

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