“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom when it leads to further thought”
—James Redfield, ‘Herodotus the Tourist,’ 103
On June 3, 2015, Stephen Morgan wrote an article for the Digital Journal titled, “Scientists show future events determine what happens in the past.” In this article, Morgan outlines a number of experiments showing that future events affect the past expression of subatomic phenomena as a particle or wave. That is, “whether [an atom] continued as a particle or changed into a wave wasn’t decided until a future event had already taken place.” This is a compelling thought, which Morgan also extends to our very own human bodies: “To bamboozle you further, this should all be going on right now in the subatomic particles which make up your body.” A fascinating thought experiment.
On June 14, 2015, my colleague Wonder Bright tweeted a link to this article, suggesting, “sounds like a good reason to get your chart read to me!” Wonder, a writer and astrologer who sees clients for extended periods of time, uses memoir and other narrative strategies to help people examine and rewrite their life stories. Through this process, her clients find comfort and healing, compassion and empowerment.
The implications of Morgan’s article suggest that even at the subatomic level, we are able to use knowledge of the future to change the past. If we apply this to astrology, as we get acquainted with our natal promise, encoded in the horoscope, we are able to see ourselves in new ways, and reimagine how we have crossed through space and time to arrive at our current point. Sensing the majesty in Wonder’s suggestion, I then retweeted this a day later, adding “Absolutely! Quantum insight!”
I would like to spend more time considering the unspoken assumptions of what Wonder and I shared with each other, to extend Morgan’s article to apply to other areas of human knowledge. The scientific (or scientistic) explanation of reality is merely one way to go about trying to decide what is “real” and how we know what we know. What Wonder and I are alluding to is another qualitative level of examining reality.
If we take the Hermetic correspondence theory “as above, so below” as a foundation, we can extrapolate from Morgan’s article that if optical observation and future manipulation of light/wave movements determine their past expressions at a subatomic scale, that, when applied on a human scale, meaningful observation of our life circumstances can change our experience of the past.
Wonder and I were discussing this just last week, while she visited me in Seattle. Remembering memories changes them, and thereby changes how we know the past. As we actively recall a memory, we transform our brains. The storage of the memory gets rewritten and the memory shifts to emphasize whatever we find prominent or noteworthy in the present, as we relive it. This is how it is possible to over-remember something and have it eventually fade. In this way, our present imperceptibly changes the past.
Since our discussion concerns changing the (meaning of the) past, let’s revisit Herodotus, the Father of History, that academic discipline of the remnants of time, and recall his distinction between facts and truth. In his tome The Histories Herodotus suggests facts may be what actually happened, but the truth is what people agree happened. Already we have story, narratives of human design, determining meaning, which we call truth. This may or may not be based on facts. But my point here is that “facts” and “truth” are not the same.
But the past is not what’s at stake. It’s the future’s effect on the past, so let’s turn now to the realm of astrology, that guardian science of the future. Astrology, broadly defined, is a mode of relating celestial events with human experience to generate qualitative meaning. Properly understood, astrology is not a single practice, but a convenient noun to describe a diverse set of practices that emerged across human cultures as they sprouted, flourished, and perished on earth. It is also frequently misunderstood, as I outline in my article on understanding astrology. For this discussion, let’s limit ourselves to the Western astrological tradition—the ancestor of the astrology Wonder and I and many of our peers practice today.
What does an astrologer see when he or she looks at a natal chart for a client? The initial data consists of a two-dimensional map of the celestial realm at the time of an individual’s birth relative to the place of birth on earth. The life led by this person takes place entirely on earth (astronauts excepted), which is why our model of a heliocentric universe is not directly applicable to this person’s lived experience. This summer, when our clients look up at the night sky, they will see Jupiter and Venus forming a conjunction in relation to their vantage point on terra firma.
Venus chasing Jupiter after sunset in Bellingham, WA, June 2015
Thus, by association, the planetary movements, as visible to us, are the locus of generating meaning for our lived lives on this planet—not the Sun. I have not met a single astrologer who thinks that the current scientific model of the solar system is not real or scientifically valid. This model is just not applicable to the way we generate meaning for our clients and ourselves using astrology.
When a client sits down with an astrologer, and asks questions about their current state of affairs, or their future, the astrologer looks at the natal chart, that snapshot of the planets at a certain point in time, as well as the projected movements of planets and other significant mathematical points in space. The planets themselves move along predictable orbits, which themselves can be plotted as waves along various axes of measurement. My colleagues Gary Lorentzen and Tony Dickey research the effects these wave patterns have on events on earth, a field of astrology known as mundane astrology, as it concerns the affairs of nations and peoples as opposed to the life of a single individual.
Astrologer Shannon Garcia recently turned me on to a visualization tool on astro.com called the “Transit Rhythmogram” that shows you planetary intensities relative to the natal chart. These waves are generated and ranked based on their relative position to the planets and points in the birthchart.
One of the various ways to look at waves in astrology.
Personal planetary data removed to protect the innocent.
This visualization is not a typical way to practice astrology. I am including it here to show a correlation between the familiar depiction of planetary orbits (or any orbits) as sinusoidal waves relative to the data contained in the natal chart. These planetary positions show us meaningful relationships between the sky when one was born and a future sky.
All of this curls back to the individual’s lived experience. Planetary transits, being regular, recur. Most people know about the Saturn return (Saturn takes ~28.5 years to return to its natal position), but it gets more intricate. For example, when someone turns 32, Mars will be in the same place in the sky in celestial latitude and longitude with respect to the Sun, as when they were born. My colleague Adam Gainsburg has been doing amazing research on this phenomenon. When this “phase return,” as he calls it, happens, the native is given a chance to revisit their natal Mars expression. A major* phase return occurs at the age of fifteen. If a client can sit down with an astrologer and consider what took place at fifteen, they may reimagine how they can choose to deal with what will come up for them at 32. Various other recurrence transits happen with frequency, and if you are keen to pay attention, they can not only help inform you about the qualitative nature of time and give you options about how to respond this time around, but they can help you make sense of what happened before and reframe it.
In the West, the germ of our scientific past began with this tradition of direct celestial observation and correlation to human affairs. For seven centuries, the Babylonians observed the night sky and mundane events, and collected data in a text known as the Enuma Anu Enlil. It is from this archive of observation and correlation that we have derived and developed many of our current symbolic meanings in astrology.
Morgan suggests that at the subatomic level observations and future actions have an effect on the past. What Wonder and I are suggesting is that our ability to glean knowledge of future potentiality, through the traditions of astrology, has an equal ability for us to change (our experiences of) the past.
The relationship between chaos and complexity theory and astrology has been explored at length by figures such as Rick Levine and Bernadette Brady. In Brady’s most recent work, Cosmos, Chaosmos, and Astrology (disclosure: I edited this book for the Sophia Centre Press), she suggests that planetary alignments act as strange attractors. On page 111 of her book, a table outlines the various ways in which astrology and complexity theory correlate with one another. The birth data (time/date/place) forms the “initial condition” for being able to look forward and backward from a rooted orientation (in many cultures the natal chart is referred to as the “radix,” Latin for root). From there, the predictable transits of the planets, various forms of progressions, and other mathematical permutations help to orient one in space/time, predict the patterns of life and the crossroads coming up, and contextualize them in what has already occurred.
When the client comes forward and asks about the future, they are asking to peek into the fundamental source of mystery in our universe, much in the same way a subatomic physicist may peer into instruments that also claim to reveal the fundamental source of mystery in our universe. We have known for nearly a century that the very act of looking changes reality, and thanks to the most recent scientific research outlined in Morgan’s article, we now have a new temporal spin on this process: the very act of looking into the future also changes the past.
How does this all come together in the way Wonder and I referred to in our tweets? By visiting the astrologer, and asking to see into this source of mystery, the person is petitioning to gain information about the trajectory they have been on. The wave/particle analogy enlarges to a human scale: am I a victim or a survivor, will I stay a victim (or become one!) or emerge a victor?
The moment of astrology allows for this reorientation on the wave/path of human life. Our interpretations of ourselves can change when we step into that sacred space to look, with a cosmological sensitivity, at our lives and where we are in them. How we have acted? How do we choose to act from here on out? And what does that choice mean for how we interpret our past (and what we chose then, and what was chosen for us)?
As Wonder and I exchanged tweets, it occurred to me that others may not fully understand what we were referring to exactly. Hopefully this clears up just how we meant exactly what we said. I’d like to close this article by putting a small spin on Niels Bohr’s quote—“if quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” If astrology hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.
*Edited to reflect that this is, in fact, a major phase return, not minor. Also, Adam shares that at 32, one has a major phase return of both Mars and Venus. Thank you, Adam! [6/18/2015]