*Originally written for The Ascendant, February 2018*
Human judgment filters every piece of data we intake. By simply by being born into a human body, our minds filter each interaction, each observation, each fact of our existence through a lens of our own making. We do this for a variety of practical reasons: to make sense of events or objects, and categorize them into understandable, meaningful places in our minds. It also allows us to learn from past experience, to keep ourselves safe, and to steer us in directions that we hope will help our individual situations for the better.
This lens isn’t stagnant; rather it becomes an evolving entity of its own. As we go through life, we each add layers, meaning, and assumptions to our unique filters. The information we receive goes from being neutral, to being categorized based on past input and experiences. We add layers and judgments. For example, a stove is merely an object. But with each experience of a stove, our lens creates a deeper nuanced meaning around stoves when we see them. Perhaps they symbolize stability and warmth from memories of cooking with a close family member. Perhaps they symbolize danger from a past experience of getting a burn, or even simply being warned away from them over fear of burns. The concept of our intake lens makes necessary sense. This categorization and judgment is something we routinely do without conscious thought.
However, this lens we use to filter and categorize becomes increasingly judgmental over time. It’s important to note here that the word “judgment” carries connotations that go beyond its base definition, which is “the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.” We use the term judgment colloquially to mean something more negative, something to overcome. We caution people to “reserve judgment” and keep an “open mind.” We label people “judgy” as a derogatory term, and accuse people of “judging unfairly.” And there is a certain validity to this advice, if we think of judgment as a cloudy film that keeps our lens from seeing clearly. But the balance of intaking information, categorizing it to keep ourselves safe and sane, plus trying to remain “neutral” to appease external voices can cause fatigue. In fact, we have a rampant epidemic in our modern society of harshly judging ourselves. We have ideals of the kind of people we should be, the ways we should act, and the thoughts we should or should not have. The majority of this self-critique comes from not accepting ourselves as we are. It causes us stress, makes us belittle ourselves, and puts up barriers to loving ourselves fully. Some level of self-growth is positive of course, but there is a line where helpful self-critique becomes self-loathing, and discontent within ourselves. Perfection looks different to each of us too. One person may have traits that they wish to change, while another person sees those traits as admirable. This too can be attributed to the lens through which we filter the world.
Before we can truly decide the level of judgment and experience we should allow to filter our lenses, it makes sense to understand more about what exactly this lens is. Arguably, in astrology this lens could be any manner of things. It could be Mercury in its purest form, receiving, processing, and relaying information. This idea becomes more complex considering important aspects to Mercury, which sign Mercury is placed, and Mercury’s condition. Alternatively, we could look at the sun, and how each of our soul essences perceives the information it intakes. This again is complicated by other aspects in the chart to the sun, sign placement, and other similar components. We could form reasons why any individual planet makes up our worldview and judges the information we receive. How do we decide what exactly this lens is made up of, and how much we should try to keep it free of judgment, or simply accept its judgments as an inherent part of ourselves?
Over the next few pages, I’ll share my theories around this lens, and outline a method of viewing the chart that allows for radical self-acceptance for every individual. By first examining past theories of this lens through my Bachelor’s in philosophy, and subsequent in-depth study of Hellenistic astrological principles, I’ve weaved together a framework that I bring into my own practice. This framework relies on a fundamental belief in radical acceptance of an individual based on their chart and their own experiences. I believe that if we remove critical judgment from chart analysis, and simply look at what each planet in a chart wants, we can accept ourselves and others more comfortably. We can also harness the power of transits in a way that feels natural to our own unique planetary cycles. In these ways, astrology becomes a tool for self-care and radical acceptance. This has been extraordinarily empowering both to me personally, and to all of my clients. Integrating this approach to chart interpretation can help us all understand ourselves and our clients in a clear, secure light.
Ontology: The Nature of Being
You may be familiar with the phrase ontology from reading philosophical texts, since it receives most of the credit for the term. Put most simply, ontology is the concept of being; of existence, or reality. Put another way, ontology is the nature of the world, and our place in it from an objective perspective. To relate to my earlier lens example, ontology is the study of external stimuli, ourselves as humans, as well as the lens through which we view the world. Ontology concerns itself with everything that exists, including the judgments that we apply to the existence of things outside of ourselves. To me, ontology seems the perfect place to begin in the study of astrology, because it is concerned purely with the questions of why we exist, and how did everything come to be the way that it is? Like astrology, ontology is a study of existence.
Of course, both ontology and astrology are broad topics, so they have many different viewpoints. Just like there are many branches of astrology, philosophers have aimed to discuss ontological principles in myriad ways throughout time. I think it’s beneficial to give a brief overview of some of the ways western philosophers have thought about human perception, experience, and existence throughout time. This gives us a basis for understanding how broadly disputed our human experience actually is. The questions I posed earlier about our lens are the same questions humans have been asking for thousands of years.
Religiously, ontology has been used to argue for or against the existence of a supreme creator. St Anselm is famous for his Ontological Argument from 1078 CE. He argued that the greatest thing that could be thought would be a sort of container for the entire universe and everything in it. In other words, the greatest thing we can conceive of is one supreme being that encompasses everything that exists. His logic was that if this supreme being only exists in the mind, then an even greater being must be possible; one which exists both in the mind and in reality. Therefore, this greatest possible being must exist in reality. Rene Descartes supported this argument in the early 1600’s. He took it one step further, coining the famous phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” His philosophy was that if we can conceive of a thing, then it proves that someone is doing the conceiving. He believed that while it was likely that a supreme being existed, what was empirically true is that we ourselves exist to conceive these thoughts of a supreme being. This officially birthed the Empiricist movement.
Of course, many philosophers used their own versions of ontological principles to argue against the existence of a supreme being. David Hume objected to the argument in the early 1700’s, making a case that only what is observable can possibly exist. He birthed a Rationalist movement, which believed that since we cannot observe a supreme being, one could not exist. Immanuel Kant came along shortly after Hume’s death, with his Critique of Pure Reason to challenge both the Rationalists and the Empiricists. His Critique identified two kinds of knowledge, which in turn explain both our own lived experience, and objective truth. He stated that there is an objective a priori truth, but that the human mind takes in this truth through its own lens and categorizes it to make sense of it. And in this way, regardless of the objective truth, what mattered in the human mind was our a posteriori categorization of that truth to make sense of it. Kant then goes even further, to explain that this categorization in our mind also forms our ethics and reasoning. He claimed that there were in fact things we could know without being empirically seen, and it was based on this type of pure reason that we based our moral decision making.
As we can already see, the basic argument of why and how we exist, whether through a supreme being or not, quickly turned to more personal questions regarding our own actions. The Modern Western Philosophers turned to questions of absolute truth in morality, and whether there was one universal experience. The birth of Existentialism began to rise, asking questions around individual human freedom to think and act, and the pressures that came along with a lived human experience. Soren Kierkegaard argued in the 1800’s that each individual human is responsible for living an authentic life, and creating their own meaning from it. Otherwise, consistent with the basis of existentialist thought, all of life is too overwhelming, meaningless, and confusing. He believed each individual person was tasked with giving meaning to their own experience of life based on their actions and thoughts. Jean-Paul Sartre expanded existentialism in the early 1900’s to say that we are fully responsible for the choices we make, because each of us has a unique lived experience. Because of a lack of standardization of human experience, we are all left to be free with our actions, and the consequences that came of them. Simone de Beauvoir took this view one step further in the same time period, laying foundation for feminist existentialism. Her argument asserted that some societal structures bind us into acting a certain way, and assign us gender roles at birth. She claimed that while we have freedom of action based on our lived experience, that action is limited because our experience itself is limited by society.
It’s then easy to understand how these philosophical questions begin to impact modern western psychology; both with our lived experiences as humans to reflect on our objective lenses, and also through questions of morality. The psychological study of human thought inherently deals with some of same questions as ontology.
Sigmund Freud describes the different ways we categorize information based on the three parts of our lens, as he defines them: the id, ego, and super-ego. He claimed that the psyche is divided into these parts which are all concerned with different areas of lived human experience. He described the id as our instinctual subconscious, the ego as our judgment and moral compass, while the super-ego uses these parts to drive our action.
Shortly after Freud’s theory published, psychiatrist and philosopher Viktor Frankl published a groundbreaking ontological work in 1959, titled Man’s Search for Meaning. Imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl came to realize that human nature is constantly striving to make meaning in all forms of existence, even in the most brutal conditions. His book reinvigorated a movement from the Renaissance, of humanistic psychology. This is the theory that individuals have an inherent drive to realize and express their own capabilities and creativity.
To clarify, there are no right or wrong answers in the history I’ve just outlined. Philosophy itself aims to examine questions from infinite viewpoints, and this is merely a brief overview of one branch of philosophy. Through all these viewpoints however, we see that humans have struggled to understand our worldviews, and our place on this earth, for millennia. In its broadest sense, ontology is merely a set of concepts and categories in a subject area that shows their properties and the relations between them. The term can come to encompass literally anything pertaining to existence. This makes a perfect segue way to discuss astrology’s ontological principles for explaining human experience.
Ontological Principles of Astrology
When looking back to ontological principles from an astrological lens, we see that the concept was being discussed much longer than these Common Era philosophers, although perhaps not in quite the same language. Beginning as early as 2nd century BCE, ancient Hellenistic astrologers were interested in these questions of human nature and our place in the universe as well. I will caveat that while I am not a traditional Hellenistic astrologer, I do subscribe to some of the techniques from that tradition. And I would argue that the most important thing the ancients gave us was the concept of teleology, which is a precursor to our modern concept of ontology. Let’s examine what exactly is meant by teleology, and how it was originally used to view the natal chart.
Simply put, teleology is the explanation of why a thing exists, in purpose of becoming its end goal. This purpose is born of the thing itself; there is no meaning imposed onto it by any external being. It is derived from two Greek words: telos (end, goal, purpose) and logos (reason). Teleology asserts that each individual being has its own growth pattern, or telos, given specifically to it. Growing into this telos is the being’s sole goal for existing; to grow into the product or telos that it is to become. You can think of telos like a seed, whose only purpose is to grow into the plant it is intended to be. A seed from a rose will never grow into a potato, and vice versa. The rose seed has its own telos, whose entire purpose exists to eventually grow into a type of rose. The size, shape, color, health, and eventual use of that rose can be influenced by external factors, but the seed was always meant to grow into a rose and no other type of plant.
The term teleology is most perhaps most famously used in astrology by Claudius Ptolemy in his Tetrabiblos. In that work, Ptolemy asserts that each native is born with its own intrinsic teleological purpose to grow into. However, there are four areas of influence which can affect the end product of what our telos will eventually become. The first influence is the seed itself. These are the conditions of our human body – genetics which alter our physical form, over which we have no control.
The second influence is the culture the native was born into. Referencing our plant metaphor, this would include the conditions of the soil it was planted in, the region of the world where this plant either flourishes or fails. These differences in conditions of our region of birth and the society we are born into are elements we cannot control. They have an effect on the type of teleological growth we become, because we will have certain societal limitations, benefits, and rules that will influence us. For example, our modern day American culture values hard work, productivity, and end result over rejuvenating traits such as sleeping. This influence describes the basic acknowledgement that we are not humans born in a vacuum, but are born into a certain time period and region with its own values.
The third influence Ptolemy describes is climate. These are the conditions in which a person is born into. Obviously, a person born into wealth has access to things those born without wealth will have to work much harder to achieve, if at all. A person born into famine will have different potentials than a person who has never known hunger in their life. A person who marries into royalty or wealth will also have a different life experience that will color their end telos than that of a person who never marries at all. This influence takes into consideration the individual circumstances a person is born into, in addition to the climate that is their surrounding society.
The fourth and final influence Ptolemy describes is the one we most care about in this context, the astrologic influences. These are the planetary conditions that each person is born into at their unique moment in time and space. The astrologic influences also shape how transits that occur throughout a native’s life will affect them, versus affect another person. He describes each passing transit as a way for us to grow toward that space in our own charts, the way a plant grows in the direction of the sun. As the planetary bodies move above us throughout our lives, they pull on different chords in our birth charts, lighting up different areas of our life for growth and change. We cannot help but be influenced to grow in these areas, just as we cannot help but get wet when it rains on our seed. We have agency over how we react to the weather, but the weather will be wet in that instance regardless.
As we can see, there is no judgment in this teleological purpose of each individual. There are only conditions which shape us, nothing more. We were born into a seed, and we grow into our own unique purpose, which can never be exactly the same as another person’s purpose. This alone removes some of the pressure and expectations put on us by modern society to fit into expectations placed upon us. But to really see how this particular ontology can serve to benefit us all, we need to look deeper into what exactly our charts might need to fulfill our teleological purpose, and how we can use that knowledge to take care of our own emotional needs.
Using Astrology as Radical Acceptance
Maybe you’re asking what radical self-acceptance has to do with ontology and astrology, or the history outlined above. A brief explanation of radical acceptance is a good place to start. At its core, this principle is exactly as the name implies: radically accepting reality and ourselves. It means that when something painful happens, we might not like it, but we accept it in the moment and do the best we can. It is the acknowledgement of where we are, what the circumstances are, and how we feel about it. Many times, we try to resist or change things that are beyond our control, including traits within ourselves. Radical acceptance is a theory that allows us to both see the flaws in a person or situation, while still accepting the reality of the person or situation. There is much less angst this way because we are not spending energy fighting against something that exists, rather we are going with the flow of that existence. It saves us from painful cycles of wishing things were different, or that circumstances hadn’t happened to us. It allows us to accept things that have happened and move forward as best we can with what we have. Radical acceptance allows for negative emotions around an event but frees us from the pain of non-acceptance to those emotions and make things worse. Used as a life philosophy, it also helps us prepare for future events that may be much worse.
Combining this modern concept of radical acceptance with the teleological purpose outlined by Ptolemy, we can use astrology as the basis for understanding and accepting both ourselves, and the events that occur throughout our lives. When we remove some of the judgment from our own personality traits, our own thought patterns, and how we interact in the world, it creates an opportunity for peacefully existing within ourselves and our lives. It can help us each as individual humans hold more compassion for ourselves as objective seeds growing into our purpose. It can help our clients make sense of things they may have previously judged within themselves. It also helps us through challenging transits if we see them as merely weathers that we are growing into in order to become our ultimate end telos product. There doesn’t need to be a lesson in every hard thing that occurs. Sometimes harsh weather is just that – harsh weather. And it inevitably has an effect on the type of plant we grow into, but there is no final plant we are supposed to grow into other than the one we already were born to be at birth.
In a broader sense, this viewpoint can also help us more than just coping with transits or traits. We can expand this view to examine what each of the planets and signs wants objectively. What are they each growing into as they move throughout the sky, and what does the teleological purpose of each particular planet in your chart contribute to your overall teleological purpose? For instance, Mars at its core wants to live passionately, to defend, protect, move, change, acquire. It is our inner warrior, concerned with getting its needs met, and moving forward. So now we can think of how Mars will achieve its goals in any given sign. A fiery Aries Mars will have very different tactics than a watery Pisces Mars. Neither is better or worse, they are just moving toward the same objective Mars goals in very different ways.
This can help remediate planetary placements that a native finds difficult within their own charts. Thinking of the way that a planet is just trying to get its own needs met is a way of accepting that we each have these elements within us. It can also help us stop trying to generalize things we see as negative in astrology. Too often, I see astrological terms give unnecessary judgment to things that don’t need it. Examples include phrasing like, “shadow side” or “negative expression.” In actuality, these are judgments we place on planetary expressions that don’t align with our cultural or climate’s values.
Astrologers can also speak in ways that make elements seem fated, inescapable, or markers for certain traits that might have nothing to do with astrology. Ptolemy’s influences remind us that there are many elements that shape our end telos, and astrology is merely one of them. We should examine some of these problematic expressions and habits to create a more inclusive astrology for a wide variety of human experience.
As we’ve seen, ontology can have many different philosophical viewpoints. I’d argue that you can use any planet’s needs and motivations as an entry point into the chart. Of course, transits will affect the importance of the planet chosen as well. My personal philosophy believes the moon is the foundation of self-care and self-discovery. So, taking the moon’s desires into consideration is the door to radical self-acceptance for our entire selves. In my own practice, I prioritize lunar needs for each individual, highlighting what their base foundation wants, through a non-judgmental lens. Simply asking what each moon placement is trying to achieve for comfort in a chart is an illuminating key to an individual’s self-care needs, and often helps them love themselves even more. This is of course only one way to employ this philosophy in a practical way.
We must remember that humans have been asking questions about our inherent nature for as long as we have record. And undoubtedly, the answers they’ve found have been influenced heavily by their culture, climate, and personal lens of their own charts. The important part of ontology is not the final answer, but how we phrase our questions to allow for a clear view of human nature and a variety of experiences. Now that you’ve taken a brief tour through these viewpoints, how are you going to integrate ontology into your practice?