Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Fresh View of Solar Returns

Here are my opinions about solar return charts.  I do want to make it known that I was never trained to do anything with solar return charts.  My first astrology teacher, Press Roberts, felt that all prediction could be garnered through a combination of progressions and transits.  He dismissed solar returns as being a waste of time, as they were just transits anyway.  My current teacher, Noel Tyl, doesn’t like solar returns because he had some unfortunate experiences that resulted from too much stock being placed on a solar return that was predicated on an erroneous assumption.  He is also uncomfortable about some previously unaddressed issues of solar return calculations.

Timing is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of solar return charts.  Basically, they seem to represent a summary of the year taken as a whole.  In the experience of people in my circle, the most significant time is three (3) months after the solar return.  In fact, a couple years ago, my son asked me why everything seems to happen in November—for both himself and me.  Significantly, both my son and I have August birthdays.

When Noel Tyl invited Mary K. Shea to write an essay on solar returns, Mary claimed that solar returns manifest 3 months before they happen.  Although I have seen it happen to a much smaller degree, those events that happen three months are generally the more benign manifestations of the solar return.  My observation, that solar returns are felt most strongly 3 months after they happen, corresponds best with the “opening square” in Grant Lewi’s transit theory, as those are the most traumatic manifestations. 

Much of what I believe about solar returns has been derived from my own experimentation.  First, of course they really are just transits.  But solar returns do provide a lens through which we can focus our look at those transits.  They give us a guideline to help us narrow the scope of the operative progressions, arcs and transits.  Second, there is a question about which zodiac to use.  The zodiac that you choose for natal astrology should be the one to use for solar returns.  I am firmly committed to the tropical zodiac.  Some tropicalists want to use something called the precession-corrected tropical zodiac.  To me, the word “correction” implies that there is an error.  I prefer to call that method, “precession-adjusted”, but, nevertheless, I do not use it.  Likewise, the precession-adjusted zodiac is really just apologia by the closet astronomers whose belief in astrology is more reluctant than they care to admit.  If a person believes in sidereal astrology, s/he should stick with it all the way.  So, I recommend the tropical zodiac in solar returns, just as I recommend it in natal astrology.

The major previously unaddressed issue about solar returns is the choice of location where to cast the chart.  There are two strongly held beliefs.  One prefers to use the current location.  The other favors the birthplace.  I submit that both definitions may be correct at times.  I have found that a third alternative works best for me.  I view the solar return chart as being very dynamic, so dynamic, that if the client moves during the course of the year, the previous solar return chart must be recalculated for the new location.

Consider, if you will, my own horoscope.  I was born August 15, 1950 at 4:24 p.m. PDT in the Forest Park neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.  I have Aries on the 4th cusp, and the ruler Mars is in the 10th house at 3:12 Scorpio.  Every major move I have ever made was made for the reason of career advancement, usually within a financial industry.

In 2003, I was living in Salem, Oregon.  In early 2004, I was offered a job at a bank in Nampa, Idaho.  I had not been to any part of Idaho since 1974, when I passed through on an interstate bus.  I moved to Nampa March 11, 2004.  My 2003 solar return for Salem, Oregon had 27:54 Libra rising.  Just for fun, I wondered what my re-cast solar return for Nampa would show.  Amazingly, the re-cast chart had 3:15 Scorpio rising—just a scant 3 minutes from my natal Mars.  And I had moved to Nampa to work in a bank!

This observation explained a lot for me.  Regardless of where you were living when your solar return came around, you will need to recalculate your solar return to your new location when you move.

As long as we are talking about calculations, now is the time to mention to be sure to calculate your favorite Arabic parts at this time, too.  I will discuss them later.

Now that you have calculated the solar return chart, the next (and most obvious) problem is how to read it.

I have seen and heard several theories about how to read return charts, and I feel they should all be kept in mind, but only in the back of your mind.

First and foremost, it must be remembered that a solar return chart represents the summary of a year.  Second, it must also be remembered that nothing can really happen in a yearly preview, unless the natal chart says that it can happen.  Third, as return charts are defined when a transit makes a precise conjunction to its own place in the natal chart, conjunctions, and to a lesser extent, oppositions, between the return chart and the natal chart provide the major clues about how to read the solar return chart.

Go back, if you will, to my natal horoscope.  Then calculate my solar return for August 15, 2001, also for Forest Park.  I was working in Portland’s Forest Park neighborhood and dividing my off‑time between my home in Salem, Oregon and my mother’s home in Portland’s Kenton neighborhood.  As Salem is 50 miles south of Portland, the differences among the solar returns for any of these locations are negligible.

Two items caught my eye immediately.  First was the tight opposition between the Sun and Uranus, with only 20 minutes of orb.  The Sun was both in and ruling the 4th house, and Uranus was both in and ruling the 10th house.  This combination suggested that age 51 would bring changes and issues involving home, career and status.  I was also intrigued by the other massive opposition—that between Saturn in the first house, ruling the 8th and the Mars-Pluto conjunction in the 7th, sharing rulership of the 6th with Mars ruling the 12th.  (The notion that Pluto is the true ruler of Aries was rather popular in the early 1970s.  I believe that concept is one whose time has passed.)

It has been my personal preference to take a look at my solar returns about 6 months before they happen.  If they, as Mary Shea thinks, do register 3 months before they happen, then I’ll have some preparation.  Otherwise, the long lead time will give my subconscious mind some food for thought.  As my marriage had been barely tolerable for several years, I kept wondering if I would have the fortitude to terminate it.  The horary astrology technique of counting houses, which is just as valid in natal astrology, gives us the definition that the 10th house represents the end of the marriage.  So the “big bells” in this solar return chart all suggested that my marriage would come to a screeching halt.  Other indications of marital issues in the solar return chart include Jupiter, ruling my natal ascendant conjunct my natal Uranus in the 7th and Mercury, ruling my natal 7th, opposing my natal Jupiter.

There are really only two ways for a marriage to end:  divorce and death.  Then there are subsidiary considerations within those.  Who would leave whom, or who would die?  On the surface, I could not rightly tell.  I decided to examine the appropriate Arabic Parts, which I often find to be a useful tool.  Apparently, some astrologers have never considered the idea of adding Arabic Parts to a return chart.  Go ahead, you have my permission.  (Parenthetically, I believe that the most common definition of the Part of Divorce is wrong.  Some people believe that if the Part of Marriage equals ascendant + descendant – Venus, then the Part of Divorce should reverse the order of the descendant and Venus.  That opinion is weak because such a point will always be opposite to one’s Venus.  Cosmobiological theory equates conjunctions, oppositions and squares; so that formula for the Part of Divorce will add nothing to a horoscope.  For the Part of Divorce, I favor ascendant + descendant – Saturn, as Saturn is the natural ruler of the 10th house.)  The Part of Death is almost universally agreed to be ascendant + 8th house cusp – Moon.  There is an alternative Part of Death, which I really can’t say much about.  It is Saturn + Mars – MC.

I calculated those Arabic Parts.  The Part of Divorce was 4:18 Sagittarius, conjunct the descendant from the 6th house with an orb of 4½ degrees.  The Part of Death was 9:38 Sagittarius, conjunct the descendant from the 7th house with an orb of 48 minutes.  (That other Part of Death was 22:21 Aries.  That one is just within the 12th house, trine to the Sun and sextile Uranus.  It also suggested a death, but did not suggest whose.)  I remember saying, “Oh my God, I wonder if Georgie is going to die.”  I banished the thoughts because I didn’t have the self-confidence in my skills and because my teachers felt so lukewarm about solar returns.  On November 12, 2001, my wife, Georgie, had a fatal heart attack.  I hated being right in that manner, but the points are that I was right, the solar return worked, and it manifested 3 months after my birthday.

I don’t purport to know everything about solar returns.  There is a huge amount of room for learning new things about them.  I just want to encourage all who read this monograph to keep observing and experimenting with return charts and not to be cowed or browbeaten by the pseudo-intellectuals and self-anointed experts.

I'm an Astrologer, not an Astronomer

I began my study of astrology in 1971.  Over the course of the last 40 years, I have seen many notions come and go in the world of astrology.  I have seen the rise in personal computing transform our craft in ways both good and ill.  During these 40 years, I have seen some lame concepts crash and burn.  And I have seen other ridiculous ideas continue to persevere.

To me the greatest modern failing of astrology is the capitulation to astronomy.  I contend that astronomical significance does not guarantee astrological significance.  Simply put, if some celestial body rotates around the Sun, it is presumptuous to assume that an astrological meaning is automatic.  To give a concrete example, let me raise the topic of the asteroids.  The number of known asteroids exceeds 10,000, but how do we know what they mean?  Typically, someone will try to correlate the name of an asteroid with the known mythology associated with the name.  Perhaps, they will study observances of that asteroid through the different signs of the zodiac or through the houses in many sample charts.  But I've rarely seen that done at all. 

I earned my bachelor's degree at Drake University.  According to Jacob Schwartz, there are two asteroids named after Drake, Draconia and Ekard.  One could easily think that one or the other of those two asteroids could suggest a clue why I opted to leave Oregon to go to college in the Midwest.  But those two asteroids in my chart tell me nothing.  Looking at my college education, I have my degree in statistics.  My mindset is colored by statistical analysis.  Hence my aforementioned attitudes about significance.

Much of the capitulation to the realm of astronomy can be laid squarely on the shoulders of the San Diego astrological community.  The late Neil Michelsen was a brilliant, brilliant man.  Neil was the cornerstone of the San Diego astrologers.  He was a wonderful mathematician, a skilled astronomer, an intelligent computer scientist and a powerful businessman.  He loved astrology.  Yet despite his brilliance, he never really understood the artistic/symbolic side of astrology.  Some wags have suggested that Neil could not read a chart even if Zipporah Dobyns sat on his lap and whispered the answers in his ear.  Astrology is a lot like both economics and jurisprudence.  Often there is no consistently right answer.  Varying opinions are weighed and argued.  Neil felt that any and all astronomical views could be converted to astrology.  And I disagree.

The "true" node was one of Neil Michelsen's ideas.  When I took up astrology in 1971, the mean node was all we had to use.  The "true" node was released to the world with the publication of Neil's American Ephemeris in 1979.  I liked the concept and converted to using it.  Then in 1982, I acquired my first computer and astrological software.  But this program was capable of only using the mean node.  So I quit using the true node, and my readings got better.  In the horoscopes of many people, the difference between the mean and true nodes is scant, but in my horoscope, the difference is profound.  The two are a degree and a half apart--and in different signs. 

My advice to all astrologers is to think for yourself.  If you are faced with a choice of alternatives, try them all.  Use the one that works best for you.  Then you will attract clients whose horoscopes resonate with your chosen methods.