When we start studying astrology, we usually begin with identifying and defining elements of the horoscope. And there comes a phase when we need to switch from creating a “patchwork” of information to actually being able to make sense of it all. There are many authors who discuss how to combine a list of keywords into a synthetic whole (in all the senses of the word). But this kind of interpretation will always be our own construction, and we have to keep that in mind. Otherwise chances are that we won’t notice when planets, signs and houses do not “behave” as we expect them to.
It’s possible and worthwhile to enter an intimate relationship with the natal chart and meet the energy that animates it before we start to understand it intellectually. This is what I call an “animistic” approach (as opposed to a “symbolic” one).
What is animism?
Animism has as many definitions as many people have cared to define it.
As an animist, I perceive life as something we participate in, not as something we have. And in this sense, everything that exists is alive. The Gibraltar Campion flower grows nowhere else in the world but on the Rock of Gibraltar. Because the rock participates in the life of the flower, it is alive.
The Complications with the Symbolic Approach
Many of us start learning astrology by attaching keywords to planets. And at one point, the list will become overcrowded and full of overlaps. For example, each planet will become so rich in “meaning”, always modified by a specific context, that in the end they don’t seem to “mean” anything at all.
From a symbolic viewpoint, it is important to distinguish the inner from the outer. The role of consciousness is to connect the private (inner) with the shared (outer) and transmute one into the other. We make the inner manifest in the outer world and give the outer world an inner representation.
But the temptation to have something to hold onto can be too strong, and we might want to compensate for the plasticity of symbols by using examples that suggest a one-to-one correspondence between planetary placements and specific (psychological) situations.
This brings the danger of falling into a mentality where our “modern” symbols become just as fixed in meaning as in “traditional” astrology. It makes little difference whether we move on the “literal” or the “psychological” plane; whether we call Saturn in the fifth house “difficulty with /having children” or “the classic indication of the unloved child” . 1