Astrology: Ecopsychology of the Night
Interview with Jason Holley by Rene Tricou
What got you into astrology?
I grew up in an astrologically fluent family. Not professional astrologers, but people who knew their moon signs and enough about their charts. When I was born, my chart was done by our neighborhood astrologer. In a way, I was born into it. I didn’t get into it in a deep way until about the age of thirteen. My family did stuff like this and was also Christian fundamentalist. So, they did not quite know how to reconcile it, as it was quite paradoxical.
At age twelve or thirteen, I found a set of books in a credenza my grandmother had that I wasn’t supposed to find. This hidden set of books contained works by Alice Bailey, Daniel Rudhyar, a lot of theosophy, and esoteric astrology, not mainstream astrology. It blew my mind. I didn’t always understand what I was reading, but it spoke to me. And that’s when it got started. This was a secret, I didn’t tell them I was looking at the books, due to my family’s ambivalence about it. On one hand, in a direct lived experience, people knew this was right. Then, the script of religion is God’s thing, and “we mustn’t know that, we don’t want to find out too much, remember what happened to uncle so-and-so or aunt so-and-so when they went too deep…” It is a long lineage. From there, it took off, and I read voraciously and started teaching classes at my high school on astrology, created a board game…I’m curious to know what ever happened to that board game…So, astrology started very early for me.
When did your family bring up the conversation of, “Oh, by the way, we did your birth astrology?”
I grew up knowing it had been done, because the chart was wrong. It was a little off; they thought I was a Leo rising and I’m cancer rising. My matriarchal grandmother was the carrier besides me and all the psychism and stuff is mother-mother-mother’s-mother. I was born and lived in the same house with my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother, and my great-great-grandmother. This thing we did was kind of always in the air. My grandmother would ask what astrological sign my friends are. Like, “oh you made a new friend? Well are they a Pisces? Because I don’t want you around those Pisces.” It was superstitious, not neutral, astrology.
I must ask you. What’s your sign?
I’m a Libra.
A simple question. What is astrology?
I would say astrology is a way to live in connection with natural cycles of time. It is also the correlation, “as above, so below.” We are a part of a connected universe and it’s cycles. For thousands of years, people have been making correlations to the happenings of the sky and earth, and seeing if in some way they are connected, if they mirror each other. Astrology is an amazing study of this world, of connection and of the cycles, of being embedded in time, within a place.
What does it mean when you say astrology is the ‘Ecopsychology of night’?
Astrology in today’s world is not especially embodied, and many astrologers look up at the sky without knowing what stars they are looking at. They mostly look at a chart on a piece of paper, like an astrological chart. It is a bit removed and abstracted. For some of us, it lives in a very direct and felt way, like you feel it and are in it and are embodied in it. In astrology, we say that the planet Uranus is the ruler of astrology, the planet associated to astrology. But, Uranus is half of a polarity, the other half being Gaia herself, as they were married. Uranus and Gaia, the Sky and the Earth.
The astrology I live in and work with is about connection to natural cycles, that everything has a season and there is a seasonality of life, and being able to know what season you are in is helpful. When in winter, you need winter clothes, and in summer, you don’t need them. This is similar with all parts of life. It’s all these cycles within cycles within cycles, and when you start to live this way, you feel it. You feel Venus when she is in her Evening Star. It’s very alive, its pulsing, and feels like…I mean, if you think about the ancients and people who don’t live in light polluted places, the sky is what you see at night. It’s darkness around you, so the same people around you that take their cues from noticing the hawk fly by or something on the Earth are, at night, noticing the heavens.
I notice your sensitivity level of astrology in growing up with this background that was nourished by your household. I also experience a sense of romance with astrology. What is your connective experience and embodiment of this type of Ecopsychology within yourself?
For me, it feels like astrology is a way to have an encounter with the gods, in a safe and mediated way. In archetypal world, we think of raw archetypes as being overwhelming for us in our human experience, and astrology mediates the experience. It gives you a way to connect with it and be creative and dance with it. I personally feel the embeddedness of the cycle, in my body. I feel what’s happening with the moon or with the different planets in my own chart. Once you begin to attend to this [awareness], it speaks more to you.
Richard Tarnas, a scholarly astrologer, talks about the notion of the sky being a friend that we’ve stopped listening to. It takes a while for your friend who needs to see your interest in them again before they start talking again. Once they know you are interested in dialogue, there’s a dialogue. We are constantly in this dialogue with all these gods and cycles and I’m just ever amazed…it’s always in diverse ways that they show up. There is power to cycles and knowing how to dance with them. There are times in a cycle where things are emerging and all kinds of new things are happening. Then there are times when we are in culmination, then times in letting go and reorientation. If you are living as if something is getting started when it is trying to die, then you are out of sync with the cycle. The same way our culture is out of sync with natural rhythms, and pretty much anything natural.
Astrology helps us get back in-rhythm. It’s not slave-ish obedience to the cycle; it’s what you would like to be able to naturally and creatively dance with rather than swimming upstream all the time. For instance, cycles like the lunar phases start from new to full to new again. And there are hundreds of those in different planets and systems. Our culture likes the waxing period, from the new to the full. We like when things are growing and increasing, but have a lot of problem and are uncomfortable with the waning period and letting things fall away. So, people keep trying to live as if they are in the waxing part of the cycle, “keep going, keep going, build taller,” instead of realizing that anything in form must be impermanent. It must arise, sustain, and dissolve. To my knowledge, it doesn’t work any other way. Astrology is about remembering cycle and not the straight line. The Earth’s rhythms are cycles. And it’s the Earth’s rhythms that set the 12 astrological signs themselves. The constellations are reference points, and the signs refer to the beginning, middle, and end of each season. Aries starts are the vernal, spring equinox. The first third of that is Aries, the second third of spring is Taurus, and the last is Gemini. At the summer solstice, cancer is the first, etc. With constellations as reference points to twelve phases of the year, it’s the Earth that is the reference point for astrology.
In relating what you are saying to the psyche, it like you are swooning or birthing the different parts of the person’s experience. Linking up to see how these pieces are interconnected, addressing them specifically. It’s like you are swooning the gods!
Yeah, and finding out how they relate to each other in the psyche. Part of this is the notion that the gods move us, and we are also their blessed vehicles to be able to evolve themselves through form. There is a creative dialogue going on. Venus to us, now, is not the same Venus as she was to the Babylonians. They are all interesting, and they change, grow, shift. We watch them shift, and each of us lives in a way that continues to elaborate the pattern. This a pattern through it all, and yet in the moment, it’s a very lived experience, a very spontaneous evolution. Its only with hindsight that it seems, “Oh, it had to go that way.” That’s the free-will thing that plagues people with astrology. “What is it, is it fate or free will?” These patterns are a way of saying it is both, and the experience of choice is real.
Over time, you can see that, this is going this way. It doesn’t make it any less real that, like time itself, it doesn’t exist at one level. If it does, it’s just one big space. But to do this thing we do in form, we need to experience it in a linear way. Astrology bridges, or attempts to describe, the journey of spirit, in matter, in form, and tries to speak to the idea of “from the beginning of the cycle, through what are all the different ways and who are all the different forces and archetypes that help things cycle through…” which is powerful. That’s why I like it, because it’s quite grounding for work like ours, in therapeutic and healing settings. Astrology says “you’re from this place and this time,” and that’s about as grounding as you can get. I sometimes think of it as one’s own indigeneity, without meaning that in a cultural or political context or claiming to be indigenous in that way. Rather, the sense that we are each of a time and place. It is so important to know our root. The chart roots you, in time and space and offers a claiming of your moment and space in the order of things.
I always thought it interesting in talking with some people, there is a groundedness in all these different aspects of the human person. I have found a potential for groundedness in being flighty or airy. Like, “Oh, I am flighty and airy,” a claim to the expression of Self.
What type of astrology do you work with, specifically?
I am probably best described to be working within mytho-poetic and evolutionary, and psychological, and humanistic [models]… a little bit of everything, but those are the main thrusts. The humanistic and psychological [models] came out more-so during the 60s and 70s, where [psychology], especially the Jungian world, were becoming more interested in astrology and vice versa. There was a lot of creative work to deepen astrologer’s notions of the psyche. The mythopoetic speaks to reweaving mythological stories into the astrology pantheon. Currently, we are in a Renaissance of astrology. It’s an exciting world to be in! When I go to an astrology conference, it is the most exciting thing I do each year. There is one I go to in Seattle, and it’s my most fun event. It’s meeting people who are re-membering astrology, because it has been dis-membered. So, the mythopoetic piece is about re-membering the myths, and bringing them back into it, because it became quite abstract. By the time the Greeks and Romans got a hold of it, they made it abstract, which is fine, but it lost texture and storytelling pieces. In the last few decades, a few of us have wanted to bring that back in more, and it has begun to happen. And then evolutionary speaks to the journey of the soul across lifetimes, looking more at karma, dharma, and evolution of the soul. Mythopoetry looks at Soul with a “capital S,” as ‘something that cannot be defined,’ whereas in the evolutionary model we mean more of the Atman, or a definable thing that goes from lifetime to lifetime, body to body. I’m a little less of an evolutionary astrologer now, but have done a lot in that.
I recall hearing that you have been to India. Did you explore more into the world of astrology while you were there?
Yes, the Vedic system is very interesting, too. It’s a very different tradition, less psychological, more event-oriented. It more resembles the old astrology of the Greek astrologies, where it is more predictively oriented than most Western astrology. Now, most Western astrology trends toward psychological process, whereas Hindu and Vedic have gone another way. I have exposed my Self to that. I am not a Vedic astrologer, which takes training, but I like it. I track my own charts and cycles, certainly, from all these systems.
Is there a ‘membering’ together for you of the different astrological systems within your work?
Yeah, I think so, because each of the astrological cosmologies bring a different [perspective] of what’s going on. Like, how we are looking at all psychological systems of defense, enneagram or Jungian typology, or core energetics. However, I am not a big fan of completely synthesizing them together; I like to let them each be their own organic animal that sees the world in its own way. Like, why do you need to correlate how the frog sees life to how the dog does? They both have interesting viewpoints. I just love, with the astrologies, to let them all be there in their fascinating multiplicity. And the astrology world is so alive and vibrant. One of the ways [astrology] is an Ecopsychology is we are in an alive universe, and are connected completely with all that is. You must take that for granted if astrology is going to make any sense to you. You acknowledge some connection between ‘me and this spinning planet in space’ and the stars, otherwise the whole premise breaks down. You cannot see life in this mechanistic, Newtonian, “I’m-here-and-there-is-a-vacuum-between-me-and-you” viewpoint. It’s like you see all the energy and unseen connections between all things. They are everywhere in space, literally, or metaphorically, or both.
What have you learned about your Self as an astrologer?
With a chart, you are going to see what you are ready to see at any given time. There are all these symbols and asteroids one is tracking. They can be seen in many ways; it’s not like the meaning is all ‘written out there’ with its symbols and gods and stories. But your ability to really hear from the stories changes what you are ready to hear from them.
This reminds me of the cycles you were talking about. With each cycle, a layer is added.
Exactly. One of the really nice aspects of my chart, nice meaning that it indicates the planets work well and cooperate together, is in a trine, which is 120 degrees apart in zodiac, so things are in the same elements, like Libra and Aquarius are trine, because they are both air. Trines work well as a rule. The planets involved will get on well and achieve what they are trying to achieve, so to speak. I have one trine between the sun and Pluto in Libra, and Jupiter in Aquarius.
With a chart, I tend to look for the hard stuff in the chart (my tendency in life anyway.) I’m looking for the struggle, because the harder aspects are more evolutionary. And I never took note of this beautiful trine! I did not pay attention to it in years! I’ve looked at my chart for literally 30 plus years, and would acknowledge and tell someone that ‘one of my aspects is that…’ but to get it took a long time. And that aspect is hugely about teaching and sharing, offering stimulating ideas and providing them in interchange. So, there is a blessing in my chart for that, and it’s those sorts of things where you take it into yourself in a deeper way. A lot of time, when people get a good reading, it will meet them in the way they know themselves now, and offers a little bit more they are on the cusp of knowing. That’s what I think happens in the chart – just as I was claiming that teacher-ship, I noticed the trine, which took me deeper into it. Then it takes you into the stories of teaching and learning and myth, and it drops on another level.
That’s the power of readings, and for myself within my own therapy practice. There, too, I find myself drawn to pull out the chart with a client. Though not fully formed, my sense will is that it is time to look. And when I do, there is something that speaks to some newly emergent recognition, but then takes it and drops it into a whole other place. So, sexual abuse may be coming up in the session, and we look at the chart and there’s Pluto and Ceres, which are Hates and Demeter, and the Persephone-abduction story, a story of a rape. So, we see this in the chart and we notice things we did not notice before, which contextualizes a client’s personal story into the bigger, archetypal story, deepening our understanding and perspective. This is my preferred use of astrology, to notice “here is what’s going on” and look to the chart to see what speaks to that, versus just reading it cold and making a bunch of statements, which can be helpful, but I don’t think it’s as alive as when the client has already got something they are dealing with, and you go to the chart. If you go to Delphi to the Oracle, you didn’t just go empty handed and say “tell me something about myself.” (laughs) You know? They would have said, “Go home, and when you have a question, come back.” Like Tarot cards, if I go asking a question that I already know the answer to, or that doesn’t matter to me, I feel like the cards say “go away buddy.”
When you do bring out the chart with a client, I hear an inherent wisdom in the discernment of whether a client is ready to engage with their astrological chart.
Totally. Its primal. And that’s how people will respond in those moments. I have a vivid picture in my head of that specific story and sharing with a client, where the whole-body releases as that is integrated and awakened. I feel the activity my Self right now, talking about it. It’s that story, an imitation type of story. It speaks to a place that is not articulated. There is an emergence, especially when we are dealing with things that people are not able to symbolize in some way. A lot of people with abuse history may have imagery or memories, but no feelings or sensation attached to the memories. Or, no memory, but they know something’s not right. Astrology gives us another way by working with the myth and awaken more of a lived story of the myth in this life. Then, it allows us to take greater ownership over what is happening because it’s in the chart and gives some sense of, “okay, yeah, the story with Demeter and Persephone be more about planting eggplant or some form of night shades,” which may be how it showed up in another chart because Pluto rules the night and Ceres rules the Earth and farming, and it shows up in different ways in different lives.
Whether it shows up as eggplants or as sexual abuse, whatever it is, it’s in there. There is something about the ability to sort of accept it as part of one’s own life curriculum. Not as a bypass, not a “oh, this is just how my life is,” but more so the containment of emotional processing of “this shouldn’t have happened,” which it shouldn’t have, at the level of relativity. Yet, it also allows the recognition that this is the cycle “I was born into” and I’m not somebody that was hole punched out of the universe. In Western civilization now, we are encouraged to see us as disconnected. And this [chart] immediately says “No, you are a part of an intricate web of interconnected cycles, and your story belongs here. This belongs, this bad story belongs, this good story, this abuse, the eggplant…”
How can people become more connected to the “Ecopsychology of the night”?
Get out under the night sky. I think that is so good. And look at star maps, learn about what you are looking at. And to have a conscious intention to connect with the energy of what you are looking at. In mainstream astrology, there is a narrow band of stuff that is used. The zodiac, constellations, and the planets. But there is also this whole other world around that, sky world, with all sorts of constellations most astrologers don’t use, but they still have story, and energy. So, the astrology community is guilty, too, and just wants to look at the one “slice” (the zodiac) of the basic line the planets follow when they appear to orbit the Earth.
Then, there’s this whole other part of the sky. I also think ritual and ceremony are huge when working with astrology. Some ways that could look … one of the things that I love about the Vedic tradition… particularly Saturn or Jupiter or some planet working you through something and putting you through the fire … they do a lot of puja related to this. In Saturn puja, you wear all black, which is associated with lead. You have black daal (lentils), put ash on your face, and go to water on a Saturday, which is Saturn’s day, and throw the daal into the water as an honoring of Saturn. Though I don’t see this as propitiating an external deity (it might sometimes it feels that way), I see this as you bringing yourself into the frequency of what is going on in your life. You are letting Saturn inform the whole system, and moving yourself into the Saturn wave. In astro-drama, something I do in my classes, you set up the chart and people take the role of the different planets. You do everything you would do in psychodrama, such as role-reversal, embody the different archetypes and transiting planets. I don’t know a better way to grock the archetypes than through your body.
Whether you are in puja, or astro-drama, or the deep space of talk therapy, you enter transitional, liminal space. Astro-drama is endlessly educational for me, as the person directing it, because you never know…if people drop into the energy of the planet and don’t try to follow what the book said about what it means, they know the stories, they have the background, and they drop into the knowingness of it. Beautiful stories, like sand mandalas being painted in these astro-dramas that have deepened my sense of the planets in ways I never did before. It’s wonderful. It’s embodiment, it’s feeling it and finding it within you. Astrology has vulnerability to head stuff. Most astrologers have strong defensive intellectualization patterns, part of why they got into astrology is because they want to know everything. They study and study and its very “up here.” It’s all Uranus and no Gaia, sometimes. Some of us want to land this thing. Because the Aquarian age is coming and Uranus is the ruler of Aquarius, the question comes down to, which Aquarian age do we want? Do we want Uranus who was married to Gaia, or do we want the one where Uranus raped Gaia? And I think, culturally, there is a question mark as to which Aquarian age we are creating. We are at interesting times, from this perspective. We need Gaia to come back to astrology, and it is. This is cellular.
Any other comments before we end today?
Just recalling cycle, cyclical consciousness. I think we touched on getting out of the ‘straight line’ process, of “Progress! Progress! Progress!” and letting it be a circle. I also think astrology does not inherently support the whole spiral, like “oh, you are at a different level of the cycle.” It’s a circle, and what’s wrong with that? Why can’t it just be that things are up and down? It’s not about getting somewhere, there’s not somewhere to ‘get to.’ It’s about being a part of the circle that you are in. Therefore, I think that one big thing about astrology is it is such an aid to people accepting life as it is. It helps.
Jason Holley MA LPCC is a psychotherapist and astrologer in private practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has been a faculty member at Southwestern College since 2009, and has taught in multiple venues nationally on psychotherapy, mythology, astrology, and their creative integration in soulful healing work.
His website http://www.jasonholley.net/ includes articles and audio recordings from past projects.
Psychotherapy for trauma, addictions including sex addiction, men’s issues, gay men’s issues. Astrology focused on archetypes and the evolution of consciousness.