Free will. This concept more than any other has the power to invoke all sorts of impassioned reactions when the study of astrology is in the spotlight. I read once that a scientific conference had to be called off in the United States due to the ferocity of the protests outside the venue: its subject? The criminal gene. This makes a powerful argument: whether or not there is a criminal gene is hardly the point, people are nothing short of outraged when it is suggested that there may be elements of their lives that are not in their control; indeed, people are, more broadly, horrified by the concept of destiny.
Of course, they’re not especially horrified when the destiny is good. They’ve met the love of their life, and smiling beatifically, suffused with the warm glow of romantic contentment, they are positive about that destiny. “It was fate, we were meant to be.” But suggest that their incipient alcoholism was their destiny too? No thanks.
I would argue that the reason that astrology, perhaps more than most ‘quack science,’ has had such a difficult history, is exactly because it contains this essential hint, that in fact, we do have a destiny. Not the good destiny necessarily, but certainly the bad one. Of course, even a good destiny is a problem for some, because they want to believe that their successes are entirely the result of their character, their determination, their all-round wonderful betterness than the next guy. To suggest that good things happen through fate takes away a large measure of our belief in our own brilliance; it diminishes us, makes us a little less fantastic than we might otherwise be.
For me, who has necessarily wrestled for many years with an astrological understanding of fate and free-will, there is a deeper significance to the reality of destiny. If our free-will is a chimera, a mirage, then blame becomes a very shaky concept indeed. And actually this is very true. Before I explain that line of reasoning further though, let me describe how it does work; how free we actually are.
If Pluto crosses, by Solar Arc, your Ascendant, then the plain, unadorned and inevitable result will be that your life will go through the most astounding upheaval and it will not be easy. That’s probably kinder than the truth too, because for several months, your relationship to the world will be put under astounding pressure, you will experience (according to the matrix of aspects and energies in your nativity) a transformation, a rebirth, but naturally, as in the mythology of Pluto, Kore, Siva, the archetypal process of rebirth requires a death first. With Pluto on the Ascendant (by Solar Arc especially, but too with mundane transits) your relationship with the world, with your world and everyone in it will be killed, probably quite brutally, then it will be ground up, spat out and trampled on somewhat before being given an unceremonious burial in a shallow and benighted grave. Then you get to be reborn, usually in a better, more rounded way.
No amount of free will is going to change that period of time into one of lightness and ease. It doesn’t matter how much you try, what you do, or how you attempt to manoeuvre people and things into position, it will still be the most godawful experience of your life. Now, that’s your destiny, whether you like it or not, and every astrologer understands this, but clearly, the argument about free will does not reside so simplistically in this framework.
Let us say that you are a woman with a tight Sun-Pluto conjunction in Libra that travels by Solar Arc until one day, when you’re in your late 30s, it traverses your Ascendant in Scorpio. What happens? Your husband (Sun) leaves you, effectively destroying (Pluto) your marriage (Libra). You’re wrecked by this, you’re a Libra after all, nothing was quite so important for you, but being Sun-Pluto, you simply cannot let yourself see it that way; you have to destroy him (Sun-Pluto), you turn his children against him, you turn all his friends against him (after all, the natal conjunction is in the 11th house), you keep all his possessions until finally, it is as though he didn’t exist. You killed him (and that too is the other alternative for the Sun-Pluto wife, to subtly undermine the husband until he quite literally dies).
It is terrible and tragic, but the really difficult part about this story is that on the day she met her husband, it was already going to happen.
So, what of free-will? Actually, the underlying reality of this example contains the impetus to free will within it. The event could not be changed, it was written in the astrology at the very moment of birth – had she been born an hour later, then the split would have happened 15 years later, maybe the husband would actually have died – but nothing in the universe was going to change the event; the death, destruction or loss of the husband was inevitable. What was not inevitable was her reaction to it.
This is free will. You cannot control events. You cannot change what happens beyond yourself. Other people, events, random acts of chance, all are beyond our reckoning, but our reaction to them is absolutely within our remit. It is within those reactions and responses that our karma is made. If we fight, if we blame, if we hit back at something that was beyond any person’s control, then we create a difficult legacy for ourselves and for everyone else who is affected by our fate.
This then, is the problem with blame. Blame creates a justification for action, and actions that are motivated through a philosophical bias underpinned by blame are inevitably going to have negative consequences: not just for the person we have blamed, but actually for ourselves too. In many ways, more so for ourselves. Not necessarily in obvious and causally connected ways, but often it becomes a karmic time-bomb that will be unleashed in disproportionate measure when we least expect it (although with astrology, we will probably see that when (for example) the Sun-Pluto conjunction opposes Mars by Solar Arc in another few years, those Plutonic controls that have been set in negative motion now will begin to unravel.)
This for me was always the problem with the criminal gene controversy. If there were a criminal gene, then surely it would morally be much harder to condemn a person for committing a criminal act if they were found to have it. That feels like a mercy to me. Would you blame someone for having a cleft palate or one leg shorter than the other? I wouldn’t blame the Sun-Pluto wife for losing her husband any more than I would blame her for having a strong character and dark hair (for example), it was nobody’s fault. On the other hand, her reaction to the husband’s leaving is the one area where the exercise of free-will is possible.
It is the same in all matters astrological. You cannot manage or control people or events and any evidence that you have any such power is an illusion. Such attempts might appear to work, but in reality there is a mechanism which, silently and unheeded, moves the destinies of us all with remarkable complexity, exactitude and and effect, we wrongly ascribe causes to our own efforts simply because (without astrology) we cannot see, hear or feel the mechanism, let alone comprehend it. Our senses are too dull, our imaginations too limited, our self-interest too all-pervading.
This is the great power of this mechanism. It is so complex and unknowable that we cannot grasp it, and the myth of free-will is perpetuated. We do not control the mechanism, only our reactions to its astonishing, perfect, profound movements.
Or put another way, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with it that counts…
(Catch a glimpse of how the mechanism affects you @ Astrology Hour)