Hadley Fitzgerald, M.A., M.F.T., has been a licensed psychotherapist almost as long as she’s been an astrologer. She once had visions of becoming a Shakespearean scholar, but her soul had other plans. She has a BA in English from UCLA, and after an epiphany in which she envisioned astrology as an integral part of the psychology and psychotherapy of the future, she received her MA from Phillips Graduate Institute in 1979 and her Marriage and Family Therapy license in 1981. She’s the author of the Psychological Astrology section of Under One Sky by Rafael Nasser, ed. by Jodie Forrest (Seven Paws Press 2004) and the co-author (with Judith Harte) of Images of Soul: Reimagining Astrology (Iris & Acorn Press, 2014). She has published numerous articles and has been a free-lance writer for more than 25 years. She has a certificate of training in Ecopsychology from the Institute for Cultural Change and is also a Certified Tarotpy® Practitioner.
The following Q &A appeared in the Interview Section for Under One Sky. It includes details about her background, work, philosophy, methods. It has been updated and added to and is reprinted with permission:
1. Tell us about yourself. Give a brief biography of yourself before you got involved in astrology and of what you have done since you became involved in astrology.
I left college in 1963 to pursue a career in the theatre; after moving around in that world for two very intense years, I returned to UCLA in 1965 as an English major with plans to teach, then ultimately become a Shakespearean scholar. When I graduated in March 1968 I was 24 years old, working full-time, politically active, newly married with two stepchildren, and exhausted. I took five months off to ghostwrite a book for one of my employers.
At a dinner party on May 11, 1968, I asked a new friend some casually earnest questions about her recent stay in Hong Kong; she responded cordially, and I offhandedly asked what she’d liked best about being there. She said she’d had quite a few interesting experiences, but “the most fascinating” was having her horoscope done by an American astrologer who lived there. I felt mildly dizzy, my knees were suddenly weak, and I managed to say, “Oh.”
In the next instant, what I can only describe as “The Voice” inside my head announced with absolute certainty: “Oh, that’s the work I’m supposed to do.” There was no challenge to this statement, no curiosity about its source, no internal debate. I didn’t know what an astrologer was or did, but I had been taken over by the uncomplicated certainty that I had to be one.
In my office some years later I had a “vision” that the psychotherapy of the future would, quite naturally, involve astrology as a primary tool/adjunct. So, in order to discover how to bring the two fields together I returned to school in 1975, got my master’s degree, and became a licensed therapist in 1981. That decision cost me everything “familiar” in my world, but led me to understand what Neruda wrote about the arrival of poetry in his life: “…I, infinitesimal being…felt myself a pure part of the abyss, I wheeled with the stars, my heart broke loose on the wind.”
2. Trace the evolution of your astrological education. Who were your main teachers? What books, both astrological and non-astrological, have had the greatest impact on your understanding of astrology?
In 1968 I found only two places in Los Angeles where one could formally study astrology. Both still had a decidedly 19th Century perspective—i.e., fatalistic, attributive, proscriptive. By default, well-intended teachers led me to see this couldn’t be what
astrology was about. (If you weren’t around in those days, you can’t imagine how few books about astrology there were.) A year later I found an independent teacher with a psychological orientation and was very excited to begin exploring more relevant meanings of the symbols. Still, much was missing, and although Dane Rudhyar’s work was water in the desert for several years, I wasn’t yet sophisticated enough to find sufficient practical application for it. In 1973 when I met my friend and mentor Richard Idemon, everything began to come together inside me, and I garnered a clear sense of what my life and work were going to be about. Steven Forrest’s work, which I came upon in 1987, provided a soulful wind beneath the wings Richard had given me.
Richard’s work went unpublished until after his death in 1987, but my extensive notes and recordings from his seminars and classes have been invaluable. Steven Forrest’s work is second to none, not only for the depth of its content, but for the clarity and eloquence of his written and spoken expression.
Everything I read informs me about astrology. Among the most influential non-astrological writers I’d have to list James Hillman, Thomas Moore, Charles Poncé, James Hollis, Joseph Campbell, Mary Renault, Barbara G. Walker, Ram Dass, Sam Keen, John O’Donohue, David Whyte, and Nikos Kazantzakis. My eclectic systems training as a therapist—and the many authors who extrapolated Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s A Systems View of Man for psychotherapeutic purposes—continues to serve as an ever-expanding foundation for my understanding of life (inner and outer) and relationships on this planet. Many poets and artists as well as many perspectives on Greek myth and my own study of the Greek language have also been a blessing on the soul of my work.
3. What is your metaphysical view of reality? What is the difference between the body, the soul and the spirit and what is their relationship to astrology?
English language dictionaries give the Greek root of “metaphysical” as “after the physical,” and its connotative use in our modern lexicon tends toward separating what is physical from what isn’t. However, the Greek roots also mean “among” and “with” what is “natural, native, in the order of nature.” So I turn toward the Aristotelian view that human knowledge originates in the physical world, and from that experience the soul sees through to the universal. I’m likewise in accord with von Bertalanffy’s systemic view that we live “in a universe, not of things, but of symbolic stand-ins for things,” that the breakdown of that symbolic universe “contributes to the growing feeling of life’s meaninglessness,” thus placing life on this planet in true jeopardy. My metaphysical view of reality is that everything in and around us is part of a greater whole and is “talking” to us all the time. We can pay attention or not, but our understanding of who we are and why we’re here is directly related to the breadth, depth, and duration of our attention span.
The separation of body, soul and spirit in my childhood experience of Catholic (and scientific) orthodoxy was so counterintuitive that the seeds for my metaphysical view of reality (still a work in progress) began with my “retirement” from Catholicism at age seventeen. I subsequently wandered for seven years in a spiritual desert until astrology found me and put me solidly on my path.
I believe the birth chart maps the evolutionary work the soul has (chosen) to do. I believe the body is the vehicle the soul uses in order to go about that work in this life on this earth. I prefer to think of “spirit” as more akin to “heart,” and I believe the heart/spirit is a bridge that connects body and soul in a unique way. Castaneda’s don Juan offers wise counsel: “Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone one question….Does this path have heart?…If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use.”
4. What is consciousness? What is the relationship between astrology and consciousness? Can you determine the “level of consciousness” of a person from their birth chart?
The closest I can come to a “definition” of this word-of-many-connotations is that consciousness is synonymous with awareness, understanding, perception, sensitivity, comprehension, mindfulness, an ability to observe internal and external phenomena and to integrate what one observes with increasing degrees of complexity.
Since both Buddha and a butterfly have a birth chart, there’s obviously no absolute relationship between astrology and consciousness—i.e., the map is not the territory, the MRI is not the body. Although your birth chart is the complete symbolic “road guide” for your journey, you’re free to find one hotel and park yourself in it for fifty years, or you can explore every inch of terrain in—and beyond—sight.
The chart neither describes nor determines a person’s “level of consciousness.” Blessedly, this requires the astrological consultant to push ego aside and to stay present with the symbols and images and their possible range of meanings for the client. The astrologer must therefore bring all of his/her senses into the session every time with every client so that the interpretation offered has value directly applicable to that person’s life and current level of consciousness.
5. Do you believe in reincarnation and karma? If you do then what is the connection between a person’s current birth chart and the karma they acquired in prior lifetimes?
Yes, I believe in reincarnation and karma, though I don’t pretend to know precisely what either one means or how either one manifests in this life. Karma being defined as one’s “work” and therefore one’s “fate” in this lifetime has always made both intuitive and logical sense to me. The soul and the personality best align to address that fate and undertake that work, but while our conversation with ourselves and others may not always make the distinction, life periodically reminds us that the soul doesn’t give a damn what the personality wants.
In the Introduction to a book I’ve been working on for some time, Traveling Eternity Road, I imagine a scene common to everyone who has ever lived on this planet:
Just before your scheduled departure for this incarnation, you’re shown a detailed document that you understand is your map for the life journey ahead.. There is much terrain to cover, one sort of continental mass here, a body of water, and perhaps an island, there. There are straight roads, bent roads, forked roads, rivers, valleys, mountains, forests, more than a couple of deserts. You will not be told how to navigate any of them, only that you must—even if that means avoiding some altogether. There are small squares and triangles and circles to mark lodging, weigh stations, rest stops, information centers, prisons, and holy ground.
In all these places, there are symbols indicating people and situations you will encounter: some are clearly designated to ease your journey, some to make it excruciatingly difficult (I call them “dark teachers”); some to bring you gifts, some to wake you up; some will be there with painful obstructions they must throw onto your path, and some will wait with remarkable increments of grace.
Certain of these people will be quite recognizable; others will be well-disguised. All will have their own maps and contracts, their own life trajectories, too; but there are specific points at which their trajectories will cross yours because life has its “necessary coincidences.” The choices you make at these various points-of-encounter will write the broader narrative of your life.
Across millennia you’ve embarked on many of these journeys. You have your own unique evolutionary predicaments—an amalgam of old, unfinished business and new growing edges; thus, for every journey you’ve drawn a different map. The larger purpose and ultimate destination have never changed, but for now you are going to earth to, in Kazantzakis’s view, get conscious, to wake up, to find—and free—the endangered spirit of God. Every time you wake up a bit more, a piece of the God-in-you and the you-in-God becomes that much more available on the earth, to the earth. If you wish, you might even imagine yourself being “sent” there—and agreeing to go—as an integral part of the healing of the world’s soul. Hence, this document—this birth chart—you’re studying prior to departure is part map, part instruction manual, part contract.
6. Why are some people born with challenging astrological charts while others have “lucky” charts? What is good and bad luck anyway?
I’m without an “answer” to this. I can’t know what we choose nor what is assigned nor what the criteria are. In my experience, “challenging” charts symbolize more dynamic energy available to the soul in this lifetime—often, albeit, via existential difficulty— and “smoother” charts frequently have what Richard Idemon called a “greased banister effect”—i.e., the soul more easily slides into various patterns, for good or ill. I’ve had thousands of clients who’ve lived utterly remarkable, courageous, productive lives amidst daunting astrological configurations. I’ve known others to while away the years because, as the chart indicates, they don’t feel compelled to take on very much this time around. One may seem “lucky” to inherit a million dollars, but this can lead to psychic lassitude as well as to great accomplishment.
Traditionally “luck” connotes something-for-nothing, but I suspect “good” or “bad” luck is an extremely subjective, multi-layered phenomenon. Perhaps true luck is more akin to grace and/or similar to Vaclav Havel’s description of hope as “an orientation of the spirit. It is not the conviction that things will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
7. What is the relationship between fate and free will in astrology? What is destiny?
Decades ago I heard Ram Dass say, in effect, “Absolutely everything is preordained, and you have complete free will. When you get that paradox worked out inside you, you’re on a path to enlightenment.” This remains the best explanation I’ve ever heard of the relationship between fate and free will.
“Moira” [pron. MEE-rah], the Greek word for fate, is defined as the part, portion, share “which falls to one”; this is a good description of the birth chart and its progressions and transits over a lifetime. The chart symbolically describes only what “falls to us” to work with; from there we make choices commensurate with our level of consciousness. To the degree that those choices bind us to or free us from old patterns, we evolve and transform our fate—there are times in life to seize the moment, else the moment lets us go.
To me “destiny” is simultaneously more specific and more indefinable. In the words of screenwriter Dan Gurskis: “Some people, from the moment they’re born, know what their destiny is. They live with it. It’s as much a part of them as the color of their eyes. But it makes them a little old, too, because they understand. Everything.” Jung said something to the effect that while you’re the protagonist in your own life and making consequential choices on a daily basis, you’re simultaneously a spear-carrier, a bit player, in a much more elaborate drama. I believe that when we understand more about that drama, we’ll understand more about the true nature of individual destiny. Most of us are not that evolved yet.
8. How are astrology and psychology related? To what degree can they be integrated in practice?
I believe astrology is the ancient, soul-full progenitor of psychology. A thorough understanding of basic tenets of modern psychology is extremely valuable, yet from my earliest days as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen the best minds and most caring hearts in the profession put forth insightful interpretations of human experience that simultaneously and inevitably circumscribed it. Likewise, I see the patterns of meaning shown in astrological symbols as infinitely richer than both its proponents and opponents have allowed. Whatever our perspective, we need vast and adequate resources to take us more and more deeply into the human condition.
In everyday application, my first responsibility to the therapy client is to refrain from interjecting astrology into the work (there are also some clients for whom neither imaginal, symbolic, nor astrological work is appropriate). I keep the two perspectives overtly separate unless or until the therapy client specifically opens a door for discussion of his/her own spiritual concerns. However, something inside me is ever on the lookout for ways to build a sturdy bridge between psychology and astrology—between experience and meaning—because: 1.) I know that’s what I’m here to do; and 2.) astrology continually makes me a better therapist. In a broad sense, psychology focuses on helping people make a “better adjustment” in, and to, their lives. Astrology in its best form (thus far) holds a great reverence for people’s uniqueness, their particular journey-like-no-other, and the specific ways they can best negotiate the open road that is their lifetime. Ideally, we become increasingly able to weave the two more seamlessly together—i.e., make a “better adjustment” to our own uniqueness and thus walk in the world in a more mindful way. As we begin to experience what that might be like, I believe we’ll have more thought-full and heart-felt answers to the ongoing human question, “How, then, shall we live?”
The image of an acorn already containing all the information the oak will need is perfect. James Hillman offers the “acorn theory” as the core of his superb book, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. He says [Page 5]: “I believe we have been robbed of our true biography—that destiny written into the acorn—and we go to therapy to recover it. That innate image can’t be found, however, until we have a psychological theory that grants primary psychological reality to the call of fate.”
I believe the sophisticated and mature practice of astrology ultimately provides us with just that. The past 10-15 years in particular have shown me that my best therapy sessions include having free rein to work psycho-spiritually, astrologically, with the client. There’s nothing like it—God’s in the room.
9. What are the limits of astrology? What can and can’t astrology do? What sort of information lies beyond the grasp of the astrological symbols?
Astrology is an exquisitely rich cryptographic system; what it can “do” for anyone depends largely upon the limitations of the interpreter. Theodore Roszak notes that “Ultimately, no system is any better than the judgment and honesty of those who use it. Wisdom and decency are qualities of people, not of systems….”
On several occasions I’ve done emotional triage with clients who were told by astrologers that they’d “never have children,” or were “destined to marry three times,” or had to stay with a battering spouse “because that is your karma.” What rigid, destructive hogwash! Neither the system nor its interpreter can know the deepest workings or capacities of any human being. The astrologer’s charge is to help the client discover the soul’s best intentions for this incarnation, find ways to consciously resonate with those intentions, and assess what challenges might be encountered. Humility in the service of this miraculous code—and one’s privilege to be its interpreter—is a wise stance.
10. In your current approach to astrology do you use a purely systematic approach to symbol interpretation or are there subjective considerations involved? What role does intuition play?
The moment I pick up a chart, I note where my eyes land first. This calls my intuitive/subjective attention to something I’ll need to address whether or not the core symbols (Sun, Moon, Ascendant) are involved. I still make outline-type notations before I begin a session so that my mind has a loom on which to weave whatever comes forth. I also find that diagramming the dispositors is invaluable.
I customarily begin each session by addressing this lifetime’s central organizing principles/themes—seen in the Sun/Moon/ASC—around which everything else in the chart/life orbits. However, because I work only in-person or on the phone or on Skype, I rely strongly on the quality and timbre of dialogue with the client (sparse though it may sometimes be), as this is what creates the working alliance between us. Having that dialogue usually requires departure from a purely systematic approach—i.e., what “needs” to enter the room will enter regardless of my agenda. The sign in Jung’s office is apt: “Ready or not, the god will appear.” Often enough, said god will appear in the form of my “intuition,” some thought or image that literally comes out of nowhere and is now/here.
11. Are astrological symbols universal or a reflection of the cultural matrix from which they are developed? Does the meaning of the astrological symbols evolve over time as a culture and life conditions change or do the symbols transcend cultural evolution?
Our interpretation of the symbols has deepened and expanded—evolved—tremendously over the past several decades, let alone centuries. Just as we now interpret the same symbols on different levels for different people and contexts, I expect astrologers of the future will be working from frames of reference and dimensions of consciousness we can’t yet imagine.
However, the absolute Truth behind the symbols will remain the same—and stay forever out of reach, thus compelling us to keep stretching toward it, yearning for it. In the words of Joseph Campbell: “ We are the children of this planet…. We are its eyes, its mind, its seeing and its thinking. And the earth, together with its sun—this light around which it flies like a moth—came forth from a nebula, and that nebula in turn from space. No wonder that its laws and ours are the same. Likewise our depths are the depths of space.”
12. How will astrology change in the coming century?
Years ago Richard Tarnas commented that future generations will look back on the absence of astrology as a tool in psychological work “as being like medieval astronomers working without a telescope.” That eventuality won’t necessarily constitute a change in astrology, but will mark a renaissance in our respect for and understanding of its intrinsic purpose and use. In turn we will integrate astrology—symbolic sight—more and more into our collective perception of what it means for a soul to be alive on this earth.
13. How does astrology work? Through what process do the planets, signs and houses exert their influence? Do these influences “impel” or “compel”? Through what part of us do they operate? To what extent can astrology be reconciled with scientific models of reality?
For all my years of using the valuable insights wrought via the astrological symbol system, I still have no idea how astrology “works”—at least in any sense that science or the “logical/rational” mind will, at this time, accept. Even though the work of brilliant scientists like Victor Mansfield and Will Keepin has brought us closer than we’ve ever been to a scientific rationale/explanation for astrology, Keepin is particularly careful to point out that astrology seeks to “map out the wisdom of the implicate order,” and since meaning can’t be quantified, astrology can’t ever be proved scientifically.
Thus far, however, science evinces little interest in finding such meaning, let alone mapping its ramifications. The scientific model describes reality by looking through a particular lens and requiring precise replications of the findings therein. Most of us who explore reality through a meta-physical lens don’t discount science at all, we simply have a different focus. I’m constantly baffled by the stridency of those who seem desperate to prove there’s no validity to astrology. I’m equally troubled by the formulaic misbeliefs these skeptics continue to hold—i.e., that astrological tenets absolve people of responsibility for their life choices/decisions; that contemporary astrologers purport a tangible, physical influence of the planets on the affairs of humans; that the primary purpose of modern astrology is to predict the future.
The idea of planets, signs and houses “exerting” an influence—as in “impelling” or “compelling” or both—has always struck me as rather odd. Astrology is a language, a symbol system. It signals, it describes an interconnection—gives us access to and/or a representation of something—that has its basis in the dimension of the numinous, the realm of the fundamentally indescribable. We still have somewhat limited and synonymous terms such as “psyche” and “soul” for the part of us through which all of this operates. Michael Meade speaks of it more poetically as the place where “we long for the moments when the world behind the world enters the common life of things, and we can feel the coincidence of eternity with time.”
It is in our nature to search for resonance between that which is outside and that which is inside us. As I write this, science is discovering new systems, planets, physics and genes; thus it seems we humans are going farther out and more deeply in all the time. In my experience, astrology makes a vast, superb bridge between our common life and the world behind the world, and I believe we’ve just begun to understand where that bridge can take us.
14. Any closing thoughts or comments you would like to make?
Simply to echo Kazantzakis in The Saviors of God: “I hope to say a word in time to my companions—a password—like conspirators. Let us make for the earth a heart and a brain.”