Personality, Fate and Causality
By Glenn Perry
Over the past thirty years, I have been developing a model of psychological astrology that I simply call AstroPsychology. The term did not originate with me. It was in use as far back as the 1970’s by my own mentor, Richard Idemon, who was practicing at the same time as the Swiss astrologer, Bruno Huber, who popularized the term in Europe. My work can be seen as an offshoot of Richard’s, though I have little in common with Huber.
AstroPsychology is a theory of personality that synthesizes astrology with a variety of different psychological models. What I mean by ‘personality’ is not simply the outer, surface manifestation of the self, although in the simplest sense personality does refer to the qualities and attributes of a person that are relatively consistent across situations. In that regard, personality is an emergent or summary product of all discrete responses and behaviors. This definition, however, ignores the psychodynamic underpinnings that constitute the roots of personality, the hidden motives and intrapsychic conflicts, defenses, and compromises from which all behavior springs.
Questing for Origins
My own personality compels me to investigate the deeper, less known or knowable dimensions of the psyche. From whence does personality arise? What are its true causes and origins? And how is it related to that numinous, mysterious document we call the horoscope?
At a deeper level of analysis, one could say that personality is a unique pattern of traits resulting from the organization of underlying variables. But what are these variables and how did they come to be so organized? It is one thing to say that personality is the dynamic organization within the individual that determines characteristic behavior and thought; it is another to ask what determines that organization and what are the components of which it is comprised.
From an astrological perspective, we can readily see the organization of personality in the horoscope. Motivating signs activate their ruling planets, which tenant their own signs, occupy houses, and are in mutual influence (aspect) with one another. The horoscope constitutes a dynamic, geometric organization of angular relations between planetary functions. As such, it defines the parameters of both personality and fate. The birthchart is, in effect, a symbolic portrait of one’s inner and outer life.
Ah, but there’s the rub: inner and outer. To claim that outer events are meaningfully related to inner dynamics constitutes a radical departure from contemporary psychology—with the exception, perhaps, of Jung and, to a lesser extent, psychodynamic theorists who recognize the ubiquity of projective processes and the hypnotic, controlling effects they have upon recipients. Both, however, stop short of the astrological perspective, which maintains that subjective and objective realities are synchronous from birth. For astrologers, this truth is self-evident. One might wonder, however, by what vast, unfathomable Intelligence did such a horoscopic order arise—an order that not only gives birth to the mystery we call personality but which mirrors it every step of the way by fated circumstance?
Are we to believe such ongoing synchrony is simply an accident of no particular meaning or purpose? Or, alternatively, that a human life is merely the plaything of a supreme, inscrutable, but all-determining force, a cosmic puppeteer who through planetary strings controls our every thought, action, and experience?
My own view is that both of these positions are untenable. To presume that some blind, unintelligent, mechanistic force has accidentally orchestrated the subtle yet exquisite dance that occurs between psyche and environment—a dance that continues from birth to death—flies in the face of common sense. Likewise, it seems pointless in the extreme that free will could merely be an illusion and, by implication, life merely the robotic enactment of a pre-programmed fate unfolding across time for reasons that bear no relationship to one’s own choices.
An Alternative View
At the heart of AstroPsychology is an implicit theory of causality that is radically opposed to the determinism of both psychological and (some) astrological models. It does not assume that personality is a by-product of externally originating factors such as genetics or environment (nature or nurture), nor that psychological problems are by-products of an unhealthy culture, traumatic experiences, or faulty child rearing. It also does not assume that planetary placements at the moment of birth are the determinants of personality and fate.
While every astrologer knows that personality is reflected in the birthchart, this is not the same thing as claiming that planetary configurations determine personality. Correlations are not causes. For example, there seems to be incontrovertible evidence that genetics play a role in shaping personality. Childhood experiences, too, are thought to impact development and subsequent behavior. Again, however, it does not necessarily follow that nature and nurture are primary determinants. A reincarnational perspective holds that both genetic inheritance and childhood experiences are derivatives of a higher dimensional reality—a soul that incarnates into an appropriately chosen body, organizes its genome for particular ends, and once born attracts an ongoing sequence of synchronistic events and conditions, all for the sake of specific learning experiences.
Because personality and environment constitute a matched pair that is symbolized by the chart from the first breath, astrology suggests that character and destiny are co-fated and thus co-evolve. In other words, the primary contributors to the development of the individual—genetic inheritance (nature) and early formative experiences (nurture)—may be the two-pronged manifestation of a pre-existent, incarnating consciousness reflected by the organization of the horoscope as a whole.
Every human birth is nested in a hierarchy of conditions that appear to be interdependent. First, there is the cosmic order at the time and place of birth; second there is a genetic inheritance that impacts both physiology and psychology, and third there is the quality of the family and social environment, which have their own effects. From an astrological perspective, all of these factors appear to be interconnected and reflective of one another. Even physical appearance—something we assume is wholly genetic—is never-the-less consistent with the nature of the horoscope. Every zodiacal sign has physical characteristics that make it distinguishable from every other sign, thus providing an astrological overlay to hereditary influences. There is something in the body that transcends genetics, shaping the genome by an invisible hand that reflects the order of the birthchart.
The longer I study astrology and witness the indisputable and nearly miraculous correlations between physical, psychological, and experiential factors, the more it seems absurd that such a confluence could have occurred by chance. As Liz Greene points out, what we call Fate is indissolubly bound up with justice and law rather than a random predetermining force that dictates a person's every action and experience.1
Fate was called Moira by the Greeks and evolved from a vision of an orderly, interconnected cosmos. As the guardian of justice, Moira was simply natural law raised to the status of a deity. She embodied the principle that because humans are part of Nature they cannot violate nature's laws without suffering the consequences; i.e., a person cannot repudiate an archetype or express an archetype to excess without exacting a penalty designed to correct the transgression.
In this regard, fate is a cause and effect principle analogous to the eastern doctrine of karma. It is not simply a blessing or punishment conspired by the gods, but a corrective process in the service of a transcendent purpose. And this purpose is that human beings evolve toward a fuller realization of the divine order that they naturally embody.
By combining the doctrine of karma with the theory of astrology we can account for the fated quality of a person's life and character. Although the chart may be a seed-plan or blueprint of destiny, in the end we are talking about a self-created destiny. The infinite wisdom of the cosmos decrees that a person is born when the planets are arranged in a pattern that reflects the fate which that individual has earned on the basis of past actions in past lives. Subsequent experiences with one's culture and caretakers derive from a pre-existent psychic structure. The environment then, beginning with the body, is not so much a primary as a secondary cause of behavior; it is a mirror reflecting the soul's already existing internal order.
From the perspective of contemporary psychology, this is a radical notion that challenges conventional assumptions about the etiology of pathology. It implies that the environment confirms, but does not originate, the child's primary anxieties and inner conflicts. Again, one cannot dispute environmental deficits and their effects. What needs to be considered, however, is the individual's accountability. In this view, the experienced environment constitutes karmic feedback to activate, correct, and refine a person's innate character, however long and painful this process may be.
With regard to parent-child dynamics, the original view was that influence flowed one way, from parent to child. A mother's shortcomings compromised the quality of her care and could negatively impact the child’s development. More recent studies, however, suggest that the child has as much effect on the parent as the parent has on the child; thus, the parent-child relationship is circular and reciprocal. Children are active participants in determining the quality of care they receive.2 Jung’s doctrine of synchronicity extends this idea across the whole life span, suggesting that the repetitive nature of certain experiences is meaningfully related to attitudes, beliefs, and intentions chronically held.3
A similar situation exists at a biological level. Early genetic theory held that the genome was a closed system, impervious to influence except via random mutations caused by externally originating, capricious circumstances such as radiation or chemical assault. Over the last fifty years, however, evidence has been rapidly accumulating that the genome is adaptive and can be altered by learning and acting, which turns certain genes on or off, thus shaping anatomy and resultant physical capacity. And because learning can be intentional, it follows that the human genome is responsive to free will.4 The upshot is that consciousness is primary and may be the pre-eminent cause of derivative processes that range from the type of events we attract to purposeful genetic changes that impact biological functioning.
If Character is Destiny, then focus on Character
AstroPsychology emphasizes character over fate for a simple reason: human beings have more control over character than fate; thus, character deserves the greater emphasis. While outer and inner reflect one another in a process of ongoing, reciprocal influence, real change starts on the inside. Only by raising awareness, resolving internal conflicts, cultivating positive values, and making good choices can repetitive patterns of outer experience be appreciably changed.
Early childhood conditions signify the first and thus prototypical event pattern that reflects psychic structure. Cognitive behavioral psychology holds that what is most important about events is not the event itself, but how we react to it; experience and experiencer constitute an interactive system. Of course, this does not mean that the environment is merely the effect of how we perceive it. The constructivist position that we construct a reality on the basis of our meaning attributions is only relatively valid. It is valid in the sense that how a person interprets events is going to shape his subsequent experience; his interpretations will influence his feelings and behavior, and these, in turn, will influence responses from others. In this sense, each person does construct a reality that conforms to his or her subjective world. That subjective world, however, initially derives from a pattern of experience starting in infancy. It is this original, objective reality that suggests an inherited karmic fate earned on the basis of past actions in past lives.
Emotionally significant childhood experiences – the prototypical event pattern – become internalized and subsequently flesh out the innate contours of a pre-existent character. Formative experiences are formative precisely because they are metabolized to become part of psychic structure. Organization of the self includes mental habits, defenses, beliefs, expectations, and representations of self and other, all of which begin in childhood yet are prefigured by the horoscope before any actual learning takes place.
Again, this formulation is consistent with Jung’s theory of synchronicity and his definition of archetypes as having a psychoid factor, meaning they shape matter as well as mind. A basic tenet of Jungian psychology (and AstroPsychology) is that archetypes are non-local; they do not reside solely within the psyche as structural elements, but rather are inherent in nature as a whole. Archetypes are immanent and thus infinitely diffused throughout nature. It is precisely this non-local, psychoid quality of planetary archetypes that mediate a meaningful connection between inner, psychic factors and outer, objective events.
Heraclitus' famous dictum, “character is destiny,” implied that subjective character and objective fate were two sides of the same coin. However, unless this maxim is framed in a context that includes reincarnation, we are forced into a deterministic model: the assumption that planetary forces, or a capricious creator, or random chance (genetic and social) is the ultimate determinant of character and destiny. I reject determinism unequivocally, not merely because it is profoundly disempowering, but because the primacy of consciousness as causal reality is increasingly supported by testimony at every level of human knowledge, from spiritual to scientific.
We are creatures of fate, yet have the power to choose. This is the classic paradox in which astrology and all human life is embedded. As a paradox, it can only be resolved at a higher level that postulates an eternal, evolving consciousness that incarnates as character and destiny, fate and free will. Ultimately, the horoscope can be interpreted as a learning process that symbolizes the subjective world, the objective world, and the dynamic feedback relations between the two.
If we have the capacity to learn from self-created experiences, then evolution is built into the very structure of the horoscope. The two alternative views—experience as entirely random, or fate as completely fixed—both equally deny the possibility of a divine purpose in human affairs; the first because it suggests the Universe is indifferent to human learning and the second because growth is pointless if it cannot empower individuals to better their circumstances.
If there is one thing that modern psychology has established beyond a reasonable doubt, it's that people can and do change. We so take this for granted in the 21st century that it is easy to forget that the astrology of our forbears was largely based on the presumption that people cannot change; thus, all was foretold by the stars. This is a pernicious belief that must be dispelled.
The view here is that fate can be massaged in the direction of more satisfying outcomes to the extent that the individual learns from feedback processes that are set in motion by his own choices. The exact degree to which fate can be altered must remain speculative. Still, this is an infinitely more hopeful vision than those twin pillars of despair—endlessly random experience or irrevocably fixed outcomes. Perhaps the greatest contribution of psychological astrology is the idea that character is fate, and if we can alter our character, we can mutate our fate.
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Notes and References
1 Greene, Liz (1984). The astrology of fate. York Beach, MI: Samuel Weiser.
2 See, for example, Stern, Daniel (2000), The Interpersonal World of the Infant. New York: Basic Books. Also, Gopnik et. al., (1999). The Scientist in the Crib New York: William Morrow. Information about children’s impact on parenting was evident as early as the 1970’s. See Segal, J. & Yahres, H. (1978). “Bringing Up Mother,” Psychology Today, November, 1978, p. 93.
3Jung, C. (1955). Synchronicity: An acausal connecting principle. In C. Jung & W. Pauli, The Interpretation of nature and psyche (pp. 1-146). New York: Pantheon.
4 See, for example, Koestler, Arthur (1978), Janus: A summing up. New York: Vintage Books. Also, Dodge, Norman (2007). The Brain that Changes Itself. London: Penguin Books. Another good resource is Litvak, S., & Senzee, A.W. (1986). Toward a new brain: Evolution and the human mind. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.