A Conversation with Robert Hand on Astrology
by Judi Vitale
(This is Part I. Part II is on another page.)
One cool and damp evening in December, 1996, Rob Hand made an appearance at the New York Open Center in New York City's Soho neighborhood to kick off his weekend seminar on Divination Through History, demonstrating techniques in astrology from Hellenic times through the time of the Renaissance.
After Rob's evening introductory lecture about the purpose of the astrologer in ancient times, he was kind enough to share his thoughts with Clark Stillman of Access:NewAge and myself over a typical New York Diner dinner - three ethnically diverse meals with more food than any of us was prepared to eat.

During our meal, Rob gave Clark and me plenty to "chew on" in terms of what beginners can do in order to begin their journeys through astrology in the most efficacious direction. The first part of this two-part series covers this discussion, while Part II will cover some of the ancient techniques that Rob has been working with in Project Hindsight, before revisiting some more ideas for the beginning astrology student. Clark began for Access:NewAge


AccessNewAge:
Although we try to cover a lot of bases, in fact, 'all things esoteric' here at Access:NewAge, astrology is my first love, and when people are introduced to it in a clear way, they are then able to make their own decisions and are not being led blindly by other people. You have been very forthcoming in letting us publish some of your writings on the Access:NewAge web site, and we are grateful for that. And we would like people to understand who you are, and how a person who is first coming to astrology might go about entering the field. So, if I were a "newbie" who wanted to go past the regular stuff, and maybe understand things a little better, what should I read, how should I approach it, etc.?

Rob:
Well, that's a little bit of a difficult question. I am so far from the point where I started, and I may not recommend that someone take that same path any longer. Well - maybe."

I started out with Cosmobiology and Uranian - way back. My father was into it and I liked the systems because they were quite clean- especially cosmobiology - I'm not as convinced about Uranian since it can be so complicated, but it can be made clean, certainly. I think the best advice I would give someone who is beginning to study astrology is to study it so that you can cast it and experience it on a regular basis.


"...everything should be subjected to the criterion of whether you can experience the truth or falsity of the assertion."


People are often told to avoid predictive techniques, like transits, but I would say no - to the contrary - you will experience the reality of astrology far more from studying transits than you will from studying the natal chart alone. You will know what the planet feels like through the transit. For example, at the moment, I know Pluto. I have had Pluto transits going on for the past several years, but they have just been renewed in intensity. In 1989 it joined the moon, and then when Project Hindsight started it conjoined Mars, but Mars is in its own domicile trining Jupiter in the first in exaltation, trining the MC. That forced me to erect this great magnificent edifice...(chuckles).

At any rate, everything should be subjected to the criterion of whether you can experience the truth or falsity of the assertion. The reason I have problems with the Karma/Dharma school of astrology is that you can't. If you're looking for something to make you feel good or give you a spiritual high, without any real substance, then by all means study anything that you want. Studying astrology in such a way that you are actually experiencing its efficacy is the most potent thing you can do of all, because as I say in one of my standard lines- astrology is the day-to-day experience that what the mystics tell you is true- that you and the Universe are One. That's the simplest explanation for astrology, that somehow you and the Universe are One. The complex Neo-Platonic answer to how astrology works is that the Universe consists of the One- Knowing or Consciousness- Soul and Matter or Nature. Anything that is a One in microcosm has those same four levels. And so the Cosmos in the Big One corresponds to the Cosmos in the Small One.

AccessNewAge:
So then rather than go to the books and read all about the planets, we can learn better by experience?

Rob:
Yes - Mars conjunct the Sun - or any planet in combination with another - in our (own) experience...

AccessNewAge:
The books of course have their "place," at some point they are going to be used. But - should the newbie start with a book or should he or she just start with the ephemeris?"

Rob:
I would suggest starting with a book but not taking the book too seriously - just using it as a reference point.

AccessNewAge:
Whose book wouldn't you take too seriously?

Rob:
Any book.

AccessNewAge:
What about Ellen McCaffrey's book - to look into the nature of the planets themselves?


"I do recommend transits as the best way to get in touch with planetary energies. You do feel your moods and everything changing."


Rob:
Well, I found McCaffrey's book to be extremely offputting because what she said didn't make sense experientially. It wasn't wrong, it was just that one could not tell if it was true or false. For example, it said that Moon in Scorpio makes occultists. At the time that didn't communicate much to me, I would say, 'What the hell is an occultist?' I would still say that most people with Moon in Scorpio are not occultists, so what does that really mean? My daughter isn't, for example, and she has the Moon there. I am, I have one - but that's probably because I've read McCaffrey! (laughter).

AccessNewAge:
So there you have it by experience...

Rob:
I do recommend transits as the best way to get in touch with planetary energies. You do feel your moods and everything changing. I would actually look in the emotions for the experience, at least for the emotional nature of the thing itself. Beyond that it gets a little complicated...but that's an excellent starting point.

That's actually how I did start to study astrology - I cast charts and I studied people's transits. Or I cast charts of people who had outstandingly weird attributes and I looked for the aspects in the natal chart that might show them - and equally not finding them.


"... I don't really have a problem with students using other people's interpretations, as long as they then check that against experience."


AccessNewAge:
How does one find one's way, then, rationally, to begin the integration of chart factors? How do you get past the "cookbook stage" of chart synthesis?

Rob:
Well, I don't really have a problem with students using other people's interpretations, as long as they then check that against experience. Again, they shouldn't take their own synthesis too seriously, either. I know that I have had lots of times when I have changed my idea of what something meant or felt like. Pluto, actually is a pretty good example - I've had many changes of thought on Pluto. I think I had been doing astrology about 13 years before I began to have a sense of understanding Pluto. And when I say understanding, I mean having a feeling for it.

AccessNewAge:
This raises a question. The ancients only had seven planets. We have more now, and asteroids - whatever...and you are studying, of course, the traditional astrology.

Rob:
Yes, and almost all of us use the modern planets. We put them into a special category. We don't give them sign rulerships, for example. We only give them house and sign placements, but not rulerships.

AccessNewAge:
How did the ancients deal with the energies of these planets when they didn't have the actual planets to call upon?

Rob:
Actually, if you look at Uranus, Neptune and Pluto you will see that their natures have been largely created by taking away characteristics of the inner planets.

AccessNewAge:
Octaves...

Rob:
Not even octaves. It's much more hash-like than that. Pluto, for example, although it is usually described as a higher octave of Mars, has actually taken most of its keywords from Saturn. If you study Saturn keywords before you study Pluto, and then you study modern Plutonian keywords, you find a tremendous overlap. Occasionally you get a little Moon in there. Neptune, which is often described as the higher octave of Venus, has actually stolen most of its keywords from the Moon. And Uranus, which is described as a higher octave of Mercury, uses a combination of Mercury and Mars keywords.

(Rob's focus on ancient astrology in recent years has yielded invaluable information of which this kind of observation is a mere taste. There are translations, treatises and monographs that expound upon this and other topics, but before completely departing the topic of becoming a student of astrology)

Rob continued:
"I actually think at this point that the best training a beginning astrologer can get is to take horary classes - start from the beginning with horary."

(For those of you who are new to astrology, Horary Astrology is a specialty that concentrates on answering questions such as "Will I find my lost watch?" by casting a chart for the moment the question is formulated. The horary astrologer then reads the chart and by weighing the conditions of the planets and their positions in the chart, answers the question. Many times the chart will yield clues as to where a lost object will be found, etc.)

AccessNewAge:
That makes a lot of sense - in Hindu Astrology especially, astrologers are often asked to do horary and electional charts, i.e., when should an event be scheduled? This might be good for the beginning student as well, since it gets them out of the rut of reading their own charts. It's like reading your own tarot cards - it just doesn't make sense.

Rob:
Yes, but reading your own transits, especially in retrospect, is an extremely useful thing to do.

AccessNewAge:
Transits, yes. But I suppose I'm referring more to interpreting the natal chart...But your point about horary and electional shows us that there is are really good ways of being objective about observing what is going on around you.

Rob:
Horary is easier because the gratification is rather rapid. (This is true because the "answer" to an Horary question comes when the astrologer finishes reading the chart.)

(We concluded our discussion about "starting out" in astrology with the following exchange)

Judi:
Another issue I would like to raise for beginners is the importance of good teachers. Often, to remain objective we need feedback from someone with more experience.

AccessNewAge:
Yes, that's another issue - about teachers, classes...what should they be looking for in terms of the right place to go to get the right information? Clearly there are different schools of astrology and approaches to astrology. Jyotish is one, the Western Tradition another...without rating, as this is not a rating game. In terms of value, value can be taken from each one of the approaches.

Rob:
Yes, although it is often hard to mix the techniques....not impossible, but hard.

AccessNewAge:
Isn't a square always a square?

Rob:
No.

AccessNewAge:
Let's discuss that then. When is a square not a square?


So, as you can see, the question about teachers was not completely answered, but another lively discussion was stimulated by Rob's seemingly enigmatic statement about squares. You can find out what Rob means by reading Part II of this series. Stay tuned.


Judi Vitale is a consulting astrologer. She makes her home in New York City.
Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998 - 2014 Judi Vitale.

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