Speech from the Final Kepler College Graduation
Kepler lost its ability to grant accredited degrees after some laws were changed in the state of Washington in 2010. Over the past two years the last group of students who were already enrolled in the program were given a chance to finish their degrees.
While this was the last graduation under Kepler’s state authorized accreditation program, the school continues to offer an unaccredited certificate program in astrological studies.
I spent time studying at Kepler from 2003-2006, working on a bachelor’s degree right after I finished high school. As a result of Kepler I developed an interest in studying the history and transmission of ancient astrology, and I left the program in order to spend more time studying Hellenistic astrology at the translation project that I was living at at the time.
When the news broke in 2010 that Kepler was losing its accreditation I checked to see how many credits I had completed during my time there, and it turned out that before I left I had earned enough credits for an associate degree. So, I was awarded the degree in 2010, and then I accepted it at the last graduation, which occurred just a few weeks ago during the United Astrology Conference in New Orleans.
I was selected to give the main commencement speech at the final graduation, and what follows is the transcript of the speech that I gave that night.
Commencement Speech: “The Kepler College Approach”
From the perspective of the extraordinarily long history of astrology, Kepler College may seem like it only occupied a very brief moment on the historical timeline. Be that as it may, it was a very important moment in our shared history as astrologers, and there were many people who had a hand in both creating and sustaining the school.
However, there is one person in particular who needs to be recognized and acknowledged for her efforts as the original founder of Kepler. That person is Maggie Nalbandian. It was Maggie who originally had the conviction in the early 1990s that there needed to be a full-fledged liberal arts college in which one could study astrology and its related fields in an academic setting. She organized a meeting in Seattle in order to begin laying the groundwork for the school on September 3, 1991, and I’m told that it started at exactly 1:04 PM. In attendance were Maggie and her daughter Laura Nalbandian, Joanne Wickenburg, Roxana Muise, Gary Lorentzen, Rick Levine, Michael Munkasey, Martha Taub, Steven James, Jeffrey Greene, and David Pond. Subsequently, the group’s intention to create a college was first announced at the Northwest Astrology Conference that took place in May of 1992, and then Kepler was formally incorporated on November 27 of the same year.
Maggie was adamant that Kepler was not going to be “her school”, partially because she didn’t have the qualifications to teach college level courses. She knew that Kepler was something that needed to happen though, and she said that she just wanted to get the ball rolling, and then she would step back and let others take it from there. She stayed true to her word, and she did step back when the time came, and a series of other astrologers took the reins, and spent countless hours seeing the creation of the program through to completion.
It is not my intention to overlook the hundreds of people whose figurative and sometimes literal blood, sweat and tears went into the creation of the school or its administration once it had been launched. But I would like to take this opportunity to thank Maggie for the seminal role that she played in the formation of Kepler College of Astrological Arts and Sciences.
***There was a standing ovation for Maggie that lasted a couple of minutes at this point***
One of the things that always interested me when I would hear people talk about the formation of Kepler was the fact that even in the early stages, in some of the very first discussions, there was a general consensus that every major tradition and every branch of astrology should be taught at Kepler. That no tradition should either be excluded, or overemphasized. Instead, the students would be exposed to a wide variety of different traditions and approaches, and then once they had had that exposure, they could decide for themselves what particular type of astrology they would like to specialize in.
This was actually one of the things that originally appealed to me about Kepler’s program when I first learned of it while I was still in high school in early 2002, although that was mainly because I intended to take the psychological track in the second year, which was outlined as an option in the Kepler catalog. Unfortunately, by the time that I actually made it to the second year of my Kepler studies, the psychological track was not yet available. Instead, they forced me to take a course which would purportedly provide an introduction to Indian and something called “Hellenistic” astrology. This was deeply disturbing to me, because I’m an astrologer living in the 21st century, and surely there is very little to be gained by studying the antiquated traditions of the past. And in point of fact, if I may be candid here for a moment, I’m still extremely resentful of Kepler and its faculty for making me take a course on Hellenistic astrology. In fact, I’m so resentful, that I would love to invite you all to my lecture on Hellenistic astrology tomorrow at this conference.
I have been waiting to tell that joke for a long time.
Seriously though, for those who don’t know, after first being introduced to Hellenistic astrology during my second year at Kepler, I went on to continue my studies of the subject at the translation project called Project Hindsight for two years through a sort of internship, and Hellenistic astrology is the tradition of astrology that I have come to specialize in today. Therein lies the humor of that joke though, because I seriously did not want to study any older forms of astrology, let alone one that originated 2,000 years ago.
That brings me to the point of this speech. Ultimately Kepler’s most important, and potentially most enduring legacy is its diversity. It was truly a cross-cultural, and cross-traditional program. Kepler graduates are unique because they have not just been exposed to every major tradition of astrology, but they are actually fully conversant in all of the different traditions. And this is not just limited to their knowledge of practical techniques, but they are also familiar with the history and the philosophy of the different traditions as well. They know where the different schools of astrology came from, how they were developed and transmitted, and how astrologers in different eras conceptualized astrology and integrated into their worldview. Most of all, Kepler graduates have the ability to recognize the merit in studying the widely differing viewpoints that are held by astrologers from the different traditions of astrology.
This ability to remain open to different viewpoints is one of the great challenges for astrologers today, but I think that it also provides us with some clues as to what the future of astrology holds. Today there is a great diversity of different approaches and traditions that are available to the student of astrology. On the one hand this is partially due to the great amount of innovation, creativity and exploration that took place over the course of the past one hundred years, after the revival of astrology in the west in the early 20th century. On the other hand, the diversity that we are currently experiencing in the community is partially a result of the revival of the ancient traditions of astrology, through translations of texts from the Babylonian, Hellenistic, Medieval and Renaissance periods, as well as the growing popularity of the ancient traditions of Indian astrology amongst westerners.
The sheer number of different techniques, viewpoints and philosophical models amongst the different traditions is enough to overwhelm even the most eager learner. Kepler students in particular know this all too well. Lee Lehman once remarked about the Kepler experience: “If you are not losing your mind, then you are not paying attention.”
So where do we go from here? The way I see it, we have two options. On the one hand, we could look across the vast landscape of the astrological tradition, and see the great diversity of opinions, and fall into complete despair about our inability to master them all in one brief lifetime. Or alternatively, we could take it in a slightly different direction, and instead start becoming defensive about our own particular approach to astrology, proclaiming how superior it is, and how everyone else must be wrong, because our system works, and therefore we must have a monopoly on the truth. This would naturally lead to greater isolation, fragmentation, and discord within the astrological community, because if every group thinks that they are right and everyone else is wrong, then they have no reason to interact with one another, except perhaps maybe to pontificate from time to time.
I would like to suggest a different approach. It is what I will call “The Kepler College Approach.” The Kepler College Approach essentially mandates that each person must broaden the scope of their astrological studies, in every way possible. They must push their own boundaries, sometimes far beyond their own comfort level. For example, if you identify as a Modern astrologer, take some time to study Traditional astrology. On the other hand, if you are a practitioner of some form of Traditional astrology, and that’s where you got your start, then you should take some time to study some of the Modern astrological schools. There is value to be gained from both.
Similarly, if you are a Western astrologer, take some time to study Indian astrology, or Chinese astrology, or even Mesoamerican astrology. Conversely, if you are a practitioner of Indian, Chinese, or Mesoamerican astrology, take some time to study the different forms of Western astrology. And again, if you only use the seven traditional planets, try experimenting with the outer planets sometime. Or, if you use the outer planets, and perhaps even the asteroids or fixed stars or what have you, try using just the seven traditional bodies sometime, and see what it is like to practice astrology in that way. Philosophically, if you are a western, humanistic astrologer, try to honestly explore what a fully deterministic, or magical, or even a divinatory conceptualization of astrology would be like. On the other hand, if you subscribe to one of these more traditional viewpoints, I would suggest that you explore some of the modern philosophical approaches and conceptualizations of astrology, for example such as in the adaptation of a modified form of Jung’s theory of synchronicity and archetypes in order to provide the explanatory rationale for astrology, or the use of mythology as an interpretive tool in delineations.
Sometimes we get so locked into our own viewpoints that we don’t seriously consider approaches that are different from our own, and when we adopt that sort of stance it is easy to mischaracterize or even create a faulty caricature of what other people believe about the nature of astrology and the world in general. I know that I have been guilty of that sort of conceit in the past, although I was fortunate enough to have attended Kepler, where they forced me to move outside of my own comfort zone, and ultimately into a more subtle and nuanced view of astrology, as well as the world in general.
This doesn’t mean that one cannot specialize in a particular tradition or approach to astrology, or even wholeheartedly adopt one that resonates with you the most. But it does mean that you have to allow yourself to become exposed to and conversant in all of the different ways in which astrology has been and is currently being practiced around the world, and to free yourself from the intellectual straightjacket of assuming that whatever approach you use is the best simply because it is all you know.
One thing that we should all realize is just what an amazing time in history it is to be an astrologer. For the first time we have access to virtually every astrological tradition that has ever existed. There is so much wisdom, so much experience to be gained from studying how others have practiced and conceptualized this subject of ours, the study of the correlation between celestial and earthly events. How could you not want to take advantage of that?
This isn’t the first time that this has happened either. One of the things that every student of the history of astrology learns very quickly is that the great periods of time in the past in which astrology has flourished are often preceded by periods in which there is a revival of older techniques and methods, which are then synthesized together with whatever the prevailing astrological paradigm is at the time. Out of this synthesis of the older and newer approaches is born a new tradition of astrology – a tradition which is better than what came before it, because it incorporates all of the best pieces of both the contemporary and ancient traditions.
This synthesis of traditions is partially what led to the development of Hellenistic astrology in the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE. The process also took place in the 8th and 9th centuries, leading to the development of early Medieval astrology. It happened again in the 12th century with the reintroduction of astrology to Europe, and then again during the Renaissance, and then subsequently again during the Early Modern Period with the astrologers of the 17th century.
Some of the mundane astrologers in the crowd may be wondering if there are any astrological cycles which correlate with this strange pattern of transmission and synthesis that seems to pop up at these pivotal times in the history of astrology. I wondered the same thing myself, and one of the interesting things that I noticed is that many of these great periods of transmission and synthesis coincide with conjunctions of Uranus and Neptune, which happen approximately every 170 years. For example, one of these conjunctions seems to have occurred not long before the appearance of Hellenistic astrology in the 1st century BCE. Another occurred at the beginning of the early Medieval tradition in the late 8th century. Another occurred during the middle of the 12th century translation movement. Then another during the late 15th century coinciding with the early Renaissance. And then finally another in the mid-17th century, with the last great flourishing of western traditional astrology with astrologers such as William Lilly, Morinus, and their contemporaries.
And as some of you may remember, we had a Uranus-Neptune conjunction somewhat more recently as well, in the early 1990s. This was a period where the ARHAT and Project Hindsight translation projects were formed, and suddenly the astrological community began funding groups that promised to provide translations of Hellenistic and Medieval astrological texts, thus reuniting the astrologers with their lost traditions. Around the same time western practitioners of Indian astrology began to become more organized, and they formed the first organization in the west for their tradition, which was the American Council of Vedic Astrology.
And then of course, in 1991 and 1992, Kepler College was started, just before the Uranus-Neptune conjunction went exact. This is not a coincidence. At least not in the modern sense of the term, if by coincidence we mean a meaningless, happenstance correlation. No, I think that it is more significant than that. I think that it is a genuine astrological correlation. And I think that it means that it is time for us to begin following in the footsteps of the many astrologers who came before us, and to take stock of the entire astrological tradition, both ancient and modern, and begin creating the new synthesis that will sustain our practice in the 21st century, and beyond.
Kepler College set the standard for what must be done, and those of us who were fortunate enough to be able to spend even the briefest amount of time there will continue to carry on that vision into the future. And through us, and those who we influence, Kepler’s legacy will continue to reverberate throughout history for many years to come.
Thank you to Wonder Bright for the photo from the graduation.
Update (6/27/12): A video recording of the graduation speech was recently uploaded to YouTube. The sound quality isn’t that great, and I was having some problems reading the speech off of the screen in the beginning, so my delivery in the first half is a bit weak, but it it gets a bit better as the video progresses.