Book Review: Astrology and the Authentic Self by Demetra George
Demetra George, Astrology and the Authentic Self, Ibis Press, Lake Worth, FL, November, 2008. Available through Amazon.com
I think that it is safe to say that most people are familiar with Demetra George’s work on asteroids, largely through her seminal 1984 book Asteroid Goddesses. This is essentially what she built much of her astrological career and reputation on, and because of the work that she has done on the asteroids she is one of the few authors whose name is immediately recognizable when mentioned in a conversation amongst other astrologers.
Everyone knows her name, and everyone has at least seen or heard of her book on asteroids at some point during their astrological studies. In a sense she is one of the founders of what has become an important facet of modern astrological practice, with the notion that the name or the mythological motifs underlying the asteroids have some bearing on their interpretation in horoscopic astrology.
What most people don’t know, however, is that Demetra went through a major transformation during the course of the past decade or so with respect to her astrological practice. She went from being something of a living archetype of a “modern astrologer” in the early 90’s, to practicing, teaching and translating texts on Hellenistic astrology by the middle part of this decade.
Now, for some people this may seem like something of a trivial rearrangement of which techniques an astrologer chooses to employ, but in actuality, making the transition from modern astrology to traditional astrology is a rather jarring and difficult thing for an established modern astrologer to do. It can bring into question many of the basic principles that an astrologer structures not only their astrological practice around, but also their very identity and sense of self-purpose or meaning in life, since astrologers tend to identify with their own natal charts and structure their world view around their astrological beliefs. Even something as simple as changing from modern to traditional sign rulerships can cause a huge change in perspective on one’s life.
This was the practical and emotional transformation that Demetra went through during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. In an odd twist of fate she was the first subscriber to the Project Hindsight translation series of ancient astrological texts when the project was still in its infancy, although at the time she didn’t really have a lot of interest in the subject. Later, as she became more interested in following up on her studies of Hellenistic astrology, she enrolled at the University of Oregon in order to get a Master’s Degree in Classics and study ancient Greek and Latin. She completed her MA and began teaching at Kepler College in 2000, while at the same time working closely with Robert Schmidt of Project Hindsight in order to develop a course on Hellenistic astrology for Kepler – the first course of its kind in over 1,000 years.
She never forgot her roots though, and she never fully renounced her modern astrological heritage. Instead she set about to create her own synthesis of modern and ancient astrological constructs. She took the core principles of Hellenistic astrology, the earliest and original form of horoscopic astrology, and used that as a foundation in order to create a better working and more consistent astrological construct as a whole, while at the same time finding ways to incorporate concepts from her earlier work such as the asteroids and the lunation cycle.
The Underlying Purpose of the Book
The end result of her work was a synthesis of modern and traditional astrology which is presented now for the first time in her book Astrology and the Authentic Self. Until now no book has completed such a feat as thoroughly, consistently or successfully as Demetra’s book. Sure, there have been some attempts over the course of the past decade or so, but none have been able to achieve such an all-encompassing synthesis, not just from a technical perspective, but also from a philosophical and practical perspective. The question of how to unite these two long-estranged traditions of astrology and actually apply them together in a consistent way in a consulting setting has finally been answered.
This last point is especially important, because the consistent theme throughout the course of the book is learning how to delineate and draw meaning from a birth chart within a consulting setting. The book is designed to be a detailed step-by-step guide on how to understand and put into practice every piece of the process. While Demetra says in the prologue that the book is not meant to be a completely exhaustive treatment of all of the doctrines addressed in the book, one quickly realizes upon reading it that the actual size of the book is deceptive at first glance; being just over 300 pages long, it is actually packed full of far more information than one would normally assume of a book of that size.
Contents of the Book
The book basically runs the entire gambit of astrological techniques and concepts that are immediately useful in a consulting setting, starting with basic concepts and then quickly working from the ground up until just about every major technique, concept, and question about the practical application and philosophical issues surrounding the practice of astrology have been addressed. Here is a partial list of topics covered in the book in order to give you some idea of its breadth:
- How to synthesize what you know as an astrologer with what you say as a counselor.
- The basic philosophical premise which underlies and informs all of the techniques in the book.
- The basic premise that each person has a purpose to their lives.
- Distinguishing between different types of natal-chart interpretation.
- How to give a one-hour consultation involving the natal chart and timing techniques.
- How to help the client to see their own authentic natures more clearly.
- How to establish the foundation of the chart.
- The basic technical components of the birth chart, including detailed discussions on signs, houses, planets and aspects. (There will be a lot of new material here even for people who are well-versed in the basics.)
- Establishing the larger framework of the chart by identifying the places that contain the vital essence of the life force of the native.
- Analyzing the ascendant and its ruler in order to ascertain the life direction of the native.
- How to use the Lot of Fortune (a.k.a. ‘Part’ of Fortune), the lunation phases, the nodes, eclipses, asteroids, fixed stars, etc.
- Establishing a hierarchy of timing techniques in order to time “the unfolding and realization of the life potential [of the native].” Time-lords, progressions, transits, etc.
- How to integrate and synthesize the various techniques together so that you can weave them into a one-hour consultation in a consistent manner.
- How to interact with clients.
- How to use mythology in a consulting setting, particularly in order to address sensitive issues.
- Establishing a model for compassionate and selfless service to clients.
- How to bridge the gap between being an astrologer and a counselor.
- How to be truthful about what you see in the chart while also being compassionate.
I’m not sure if this seems like a rather long list or a short one, but either way I’m summarizing here. Each of these topics is explored in depth, with numerous study guides, demonstrations, references, and diagrams weaved throughout the book in a rather meticulous, yet easy to read manner. There is even a detailed glossary of astrological terms at the back of the book for newbies who have to look up words from time to time.
Favorite Part of the Book
Having studied under Demetra in the past, I was thrilled to see how much of her own knowledge and wisdom she committed to the book. For me personally, my favorite part of the book was the fact that the philosophical and ethical issues that astrology raises are addressed quite openly and continuously throughout the book, in this fascinating blend of Stoicism, Buddhism and Humanism. In this way the book becomes not only an incredibly practical guide on how to interpret and delineate a birth chart, in all of its technical glory, but also a manifesto of sorts in establishing a working philosophy for astrologers, and for astrology itself. In doing so Demetra has led the way in helping to establish a burgeoning philosophical approach to astrology that represents an appealing middle ground between two long-held positions.
Who Should Read This Book, or What Type of Astrologer is it Suitable For?
I would recommend this book to everyone, regardless of how much background you have in astrology, or what tradition of astrology you are currently practicing. While some background in basic technical concepts might be advisable, a person could pick this book up and follow it pretty well even with only a minimal understanding of horoscopic astrology. That is not to say that it is not advanced, and actually I would classify it as more of an intermediate or advanced textbook on astrology, but because Demetra does such a thorough job of outlining a complete synthesis of modern and traditional astrology the book would be quite suitable for beginners. Finally I have a book that I can refer people to when they ask me for a really good astrology text that covers everything.
I would also highly recommend the book to modern astrologers who are interested in studying traditional astrology but have a hard time reading dry translations, or who want to learn how to use astrology as more of a predictive tool and come to a deeper understanding of the birth chart, or even those who simply want to learn about how to delineate a chart in a consulting setting. Most “traditional” astrologers start off as modern astrologers who are looking for a more concrete way to delineate and synthesize a chart, and this is the perfect book for you if you have reached that point in your studies.
Finally, I would also highly recommend this book to traditional astrologers. There are two reasons for this. On the one hand, Demetra is one of the few people who has been deeply involved in the revival of Hellenistic astrology over the course of the past decade, and the book is replete with new material on Hellenistic astrology that has never been published before. I know that there are a lot of traditional astrologers out there who assume that the high point of traditional astrology was sometime during the Renaissance, but there is a wealth of information that didn’t make it through the 8th and 12th century translation movements and back into Europe, and a lot of it is really useful and even revolutionary.
Additionally, the book is useful for traditional astrologers because it acts as a helpful guide on how to conduct a consultation in the 21st century, and it raises a number of important philosophical points that are relevant to all astrologers, regardless of our background or affiliations.
The first lecture that I ever gave at a major astrological conference was called Moving Forward, Looking Back. It was my first lecture, so it was kind of sketchy, but the gist of my talk was that approximately every 170 years there is this great rebirth and re-synthesis of the different astrological traditions. All of a sudden translation projects start popping up and astrologers go through this periodic process of re-synthesizing the older traditions that they have recovered with the newer traditions that have developed during the interim between periods. I know that some of you diehard anti-outer planet people are going to groan, but it happens during the Uranus-Neptune conjunctions.
It happened at the start of the Graeco-Arabic translation movement in the late 8th century when the Arabs inherited Hellenistic astrology, and it happened in the middle of the 12th century Arabic to Latin translation movement which saw the reintroduction of astrology to Europe. It also happened at the very beginning of the horoscopic tradition when Hellenistic astrology burst onto the scene in the mid-1st century BCE, and it happened at the tail end of the tradition in the mid-17th century, within three years of the publication of Lilly’s Christian Astrology. And it’s happening again now, having been inaugurated around the conjunction that occurred in 1993.
Demetra was in the room when I gave that lecture a few years ago, and I’m excited to watch her accomplish the synthesis that I spoke about that day. Her book represents the future of astrology and the legacy that we will eventually hand over to future generations centuries from now, when they begin their own efforts to recover the scattered fragments of the past in order to re-synthesize them with the system that will have emerged in our future.
My hope is that if there is only one book that makes it through the next transmission, that this is this one.