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An Astrologer's Toolkit

  It's a blindingly complicated sky up there -- what astrological tools do you choose to make it all come clear?

Personal thoughts on what to choose, and why…

By John Townley

Recently, I received an inquiry about my lengthy NCGR Journal article on harmonics and arc transforms. A British astrology student wrote:

If I may ask, did you become dis-enchanted with harmonics or do you still use them? Sorry for being "nosey" but I'm a student and find them fascinating.

A perfectly reasonable question, and one that should lead us all to some introspection about what astrological techniques we do and don’t use, which ones were fun to try but don’t yield a lot, which ones become essential parts of our practitioner’s toolkit. My immediate answer ran:

 I do still use harmonics to see if there are patterns or emphasis of finer aspects, esp. the 5, 7, 11, and 13, which seem to have their unique flavors. I also use the occasional arc transform chart to see if a given pair relationship has deep echoes into the rest of the chart. But they are both fine-tuning tools to fill out the larger picture, and I would seldom go to them first. The marvel is, the deeper you go and the higher the resolution, so to speak, the more perfectly put together reality seems to be, of necessity, no doubt. But it can be easy to get lost in the branches of a single tree, not even the trees at large, and thus miss the shape of the forest. Ultimately, they mirror, but the art is in changing reference frames enough so that you see the dominant patterns and don't let the sub-patterns overtake you.

Which also means you take astrology itself as only one of the shaping forces, not the whole thing itself. Astrologers tend to forget that your chart is the gateway through which you appeared, and being a picture of initial conditions and subsequent learning always shapes your evolving trajectory, but it is not you yourself. You predate it by at least nine months, possibly eons more, and likely the same can be said of your exit and after.

So it's good to know harmonics and the finer aspects, both as the finer filigree of the astrological picture and as its often fractal reflection.

That answers the immediate question, but what about all the other common, and not-so-common astrological techniques? What is the difference between solid astrological tools that paint the essentials and those that flesh out the filigree, when to use each and how not to confuse one with another? Not to mention those that simply play nice tricks but are distractions, red herrings, or contradictions, the recognition/disposal of which is essential to maintain your focus and get meaningful results.

Almost everybody uses natal wheel with transits, progressiongs, directions (l)...fewer use astrocartography (r)

After forty-odd years of practice, what do I use, and why? Here’s a run-down, including a gaggle of personal article links that further elucidate upon how I use each technique, why they work, and how they integrate into all the rest…a world of analysis and commentary, if you have the time…

For a basic natal chart, I... 

...always use: Tropical signs, Koch houses, elements-modes-house-polarity, chart shapes (Jones patterns), planetary order, planetary speed and retrogradation, aspects and aspect dynamics, midpoints, the Vertex-Antivertex, Lagrange pointsMost are really pretty standard, the age-old basics, with a few modern additions.

...sometimes use: Chiron, the four major asteroids, fixed stars, finer aspects such as 5, 7, 11, 13. Degree symbols (I like Carelli),  harmonics and arc transforms.

...never use: Uranian planets (they're imaginary), newly-discovered super-outer planets (they’re too slow), heliocentric, local space, Davison composites (no!), multiple/group composites (no!), coalescent charts (?!), Lilith (all three of them), esoteric astrology, sidereal or Vedic systems. 

For comparisons: Basic synastry (planetary degree overlaps, planets in house overlaps only), composite charts (true spatial midpoints) natal and relocated.

If you use inconsistent techniques, the results will crawl ouf from under a rock to haunt you...

For developments:

Mainstays: transits (esp. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn returns/cycles), eclipses, secondary progressions (sign/house change, lunar phase, Moon chasing Saturn), relocation and astrocartography, solar returns, lunar returns, Void-of-course Moon.

Rarely use: Solar arc directions, progressed relocations.

Never use: Tertiary progressions, lunar (minor) progressions, primary directions, converse directions, precession correction (you either go sidereal or not, don't mix).


Early on, astrologers did their own sky observations, with astrolabe and telescope, before laying out a chart. More recently (some of us remember), these became ephemerides, house tables, and time-change listings wielded along with pencil and paper, and now it's all done by computer. But all these only work if you are already well-acquainted with what you are measuring -- which means a good grounding in techical astrology/astronomy and astrological history. I personally use Matrix software for my PC, because I know and trust its design and designers (including in some cases, myself), but there are other acceptable alternatives out there, as well. Although computers can give you lots of data and a really good perspective on time and cycles, you shouldn't become an unwitting slave to your cyber-toys.  It is your consistent choice of interpretive methods and your knowledge of how they came to be that allows them to be of any value to you at all. 

Simple principles

So is there a method behind what methods I choose? You bet. It’s all about internal consistency and logic, extrapolated from the basics of the simplest physical principles. If I can’t explain exactly why it works and how it is extrapolated from or dovetails with everything else I use, it might as well be random bird-scratching to me. And, I stick to the more physical world, which is why I don’t dabble in heliocentric or esoteric, both of which purport to apply primarily to loftier and more ineffable spiritual concerns. I have enough trouble making the observable parts fit, without including the hypothetical. 

Weighing and combining

In the end, it's all about weighing and combining sky and earth realities to broadly counsel the person who's horoscope you're looking at. And you can only do that if the the tools you are using are consistent, time-tested, and wielded with skill and experience. The planets are only one level of our multi-scaled existence, so use only the tools that apply directly to what you are analyzing, as astrology per se isn't everything, by a long shot.  It's a big universe, and both we and the planets, in our immediately neighboring scales, are just two fractally-reflecting parts of many above and below us.

Here's hoping that some of the many links above will help you understand just what I mean by that, and be of aid in choosing your own toolkit, with which to forge your own evolving practice.

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