Interview with Nick Campion - Part 1

By  Garry Phillipson

Q: I was reading about an experience you had in 1980 where you attended the opening of an antiques shop and gave a reading to a TV person without being able to calculate their chart. If I’ve got it right, what you did was to take the four outermost planets for their year of birth, and the six transiting inners as they were at the time of the reading. So you used a chart which was, conventionally speaking, wrong for that person, but you say that you were able to give a successful reading from it. What’s going on here? 

A: You’re the only person I know who’s read that actually – apart from the person who reviewed it! The article was called “Mythical Moments in the Rectification of History”, and it was published in Astrology Looks at History, Llewellyn, 1995, edited by Noel Tyl. The other two astrologers present were my friends Jeff Meddle and Bettina Lee. To return to that experience in the antique shop: at the time there was quite a bit of talk in the Astrological Lodge about a “Lodge Approach” to astrology – as opposed to what was seen as an AA approach to astrology. BAPS was very small, there were just a few of us practising astrology – Bettina Lee, Jeff Meddle and me – and we used to talk about a BAPS approach to astrology, which was slightly more anarchic than the Lodge or AA approach. I still see myself as pursuing the BAPS approach to astrology! I need to explain this anecdote by saying a little about how I feel about contemporary astrology.

The doctrine of “the baby and the bathwater” is, I think, crucial to understanding astrology’s nature. This notion is due to Kepler, the idea being that astrology contains a core of demon-strable truth, which is the “baby”, surrounded by an ocean of false superstition, which is the “bathwater”. To Kepler, the superstitious bathwater included almost the entire weight of astrological tradition. The same point of view was also put forward in this century by the people who wanted to research astrology scientifically, as they saw it, and still underpins most efforts to “research” astrology, in which the goal is to find out which techniques “work” and which don’t, or to establish statistical correlations between celestial and terrestrial events. John Addey and Michel Gauquelin are the twentieth century’s two most famous exponents of this approach. I tend to agree that the “baby-bathwater” polarity is a useful one, and that it is possible to view astrology in two completely different ways. I also have considerably more respect for the “bathwater”: without it there is no astrology!

In fact this distinction is first found in Cicero’s 1st century A.D work, On Divination. In this he argued that there is a reliable, verifiable, useful form of divi-nation which he called “Natural divination”, based on reasoned evidence and measurement, on what today we’d call science. Then there was “Judicial divination”, in which everything depends on the diviner’s ability to reach a judgement through irrational or super-natural means. Cicero disapproved of this and included such practices as entrails divination and horo-scopic astrology as “Judicial”. From this we get the division of astrology into two types, Natural and Judicial, a distinction which was very common in the middle ages, but which we seem to have forgotten.

Natural astrology survives today in astro-physics. We know there is a common mathematical order linking the Earth to the rest of the universe; that’s the laws of physics and nobody disputes it. What arouses disagreement is how far that affects human society. There is very little evidence to suggest that it does, but at the same time it seems perfectly logical to suggest that there should be links. If human rhythms and cycles are linked to annual cycles, they are linked to the Sun and the Moon, and solar and lunar motions are part of the rest of the mathematical order in the solar system, then I see no theoretical reason why one day we shouldn’t be able to substantiate the existence of planetary connections with human affairs to the satisfaction of society as a whole, not just astrologers. That would seem to me to the basis of a perfectly workable Natural astrology – especially mundane astrology.

But most of what astrologers do, it seems to me, must be classed as Judicial astrology, which is what I mean when I talk about astrology in this interview. It is quite clearly not demonstrable under the sort of repeatable, controlled conditions required by contemporary science. Much of what astrologers do is actually not demonstrable according to the standards acceptable in astrology, witness the number of wrong predictions astrologers make about their own lives, let alone other people’s. There may be various philosophical justifications for everyday astrology , but there certainly is no justification for the idea that what most astro-logers do can be measured and proved. We also have to bear in mind that an awful lot of evidence for astrology – articles that look at charts, famous people’s horoscopes and so on, or the astrology that astrologers do for clients – is based on inaccurate data. It’s quite clear in the astrological literature that horoscopes based on inaccurate data are regarded as every bit as much as demonstrations of good astrology as horoscopes based on accurate data. 

I need to say a bit more about the data question, in view of the fact that I am very insistent that astrological data should be given as accurately as possible. It’s just not good enough to round data to the nearest hour or give the source as “biography” or “Los Angeles Times”, with no further details. That makes it impossible for other astrologer to check whether the data is set for an actual time or not, and as astrology insists that accurate times are important surely we should try and get them. That’s the principle which underpins The Book of World Horoscopes.

Yet, in spite of the repeated claims that data needs to be as accurate as possible, astrologers repeatedly and deliberately use horoscopes set for imaginary times. Some data is just muddled. This is ordinary dirty data, and I remember Charles Harvey causing a stir in the mid-80s by writing an article in the journal mentioning various books which listed wrong data. But then there’s the question of rectification. I was looking at Marc Penfield’s Horoscopes of the Western Hemisphere the other day, and the horoscope for Jacksonville, Florida, is set for 11.22 am while the historical data gives the time as between 10 and 11 am. In other words, in Penfield’s view the rectified chart is set for a different time to the historical event. This is perfectly traditional practice in rect-ification, but it must be obvious to everyone that such practices directly contradict the simple line we give to students and the public, namely that astro-logy insists that charts must be set for accurate times. 

I’m not saying that such practices are wrong. But what is clear is that they are not represented in standard astrological philosophy. Indeed, they are directly contradicted by it. There are philosophical justifications, though: it’s just that we’ve forgotten them. I’d like to illustrate the point in relation to the Gemini rising chart for the USA, which perhaps about half of US astrologers use. It is set for 2.17 am, 4 July 1776 in Philadelphia. We know that at that time all members of Congress would have been asleep, but a mythology has developed that the founders of the US constitution got up in the middle of the night, instructed by astrologers, and declared independence at 2.17 am. This is total nonsense, but the astrologers who use this chart were so convinced that horoscopes have to be set for exact times that they had to create a whole fairy tale to justify the chart. The truth is that the 19th century astrologer Luke Broughton set the chart up for 2.17 am on the grounds that the US was a revolutionary country and that the best take on it could be established by putting Uranus on the first cusp and creating a “Uranian” chart. Charles Carter also advocated this sort of thing. In other words, there is a perfectly legitimate practice of astrology in which horoscopes are set for symbolic moments, not for accurately recorded times. Yet this is not recognised publicly, and any basis for its existence is denied. In other words, Jung’s aphorism that “whatever happens at this moment in time has the quality of this moment in time” is essential for Natural astrology, but not necessary for Judicial astrology, as common astrological practice shows. Thus what I am saying here is not my own radical opinion, but a simple conclusion based on observation of what astro-logers actually do.

Let me give another example. In her 1924 Year-book Elsbeth Ebertin made a celebrated forecast of Hitler’s destiny. She wrote that he had the Sun in 29° Aries and that “the man I have in mind, with this strong Aries influence, is destined to sacri-fice himself for the German nation” (see Ellic Howe’s Urania’s Children, p 90). Hitler actually had the Sun in Taurus, yet for Ebertin to make her remarkably appro-priate generalised account of Hitler’s future she needed to assume that he had the Sun in Aries – that he was destined to be the country’s great leader. If Ebertin had known that Hitler had the Sun in Taurus, perhaps she would never have been able to write as she did. 

It seems to me that most astrology is therefore more akin to tarot reading or the I Ching, in that it should be classed as divinatory: it’s based on one-off, non-repeatable instances, in which everything depends on the astrologer’s ability to read the symbolism and endow the horoscope with meaning. I started using the I Ching when I was 18, although I often found the language too much of a struggle at that age. I also learnt tarot once: I went to classes with Juliet Sharman-Burke in 1979. At that time also I was in the British Astrological Psychic Society, where a lot of tarot readers used to argue about the correct way to lay out the cards correctly: should one use a Celtic Cross, or a Zodiac Wheel, or whatever. As if it mattered!

It seemed apparent to me that the only thing that matters when you are doing a tarot reading is that, before you turn a card over, you have decided what its significance is. To me, it’s the same with astrology. You need to know what the significance is before you start, and I don’t think that’s a controversial statement. After all, you can’t even begin to interpret a chart until you know if it’s set for a chicken, an egg, a car, a question or a person. I do think reading a chart requires discipline, but it is clear from the amount of astrological literature that relies on false data, that there is, amongst astrologers, actually no requirement for horoscopes to be based on the exact time of birth. I’m looking at what astrologers actually do here, not what they say they do. If astro-logers are asked, they will say that the time of birth needs to be recorded to within fifteen minutes if possible to get an accurate chart. But what they do is something entirely different. In practice they learn from books which give examples based on inaccurate data and go on to read charts for clients who have got their birth data wrong. The Uranian school even uses non-existent planets! They’re not even pretending that there is any connection between measurable astronomical data and events on Earth. If Uranian astrology is taken seriously, as it is, then can we really continue to argue that there is a necessary connection between the known physical planets and the interpretations of, say, horary astrology? Perhaps there isn’t!

This is the sort of thing which is possible to say in private, amongst astrologers, and a lot of well-known astrologers will nod wisely as if it’s true, but it’s not allowed to be talked about in public. That’s the “bathwater”, all that astrology, the everyday process of reading charts, counsel-ling clients and writing Sun sign columns. But unlike those who think we should throw away the bathwater and keep the baby, I actually think the bathwater is astrology. Throw it way and you’ve got nothing left. To attempt to research it to find out which parts of Judicial astrology are true and which are not is therefore a fruitless exercise. I’ve also got no problem with a concept like superstition. I think the correct way to look at it is to say, “What is the positive function of superstition? What is the organising function it serves?” I think that’s a perfectly legitimate way to look at it. In other words, we’re asking not whether astrology is “true”, a question which leads into all sorts of philo-sophical tail-chasing, but is it “useful’? Or, to put it another way, what use does it serve?

Q: On the analogy between tarot and astrology, and things having the significance you decide they will have – how far do you take this? To take an extreme position, do you think someone could decide that Venus is about assertion and aggression, and get valid readings on that basis?

A: That already happens. What about someone born with Venus in Aries, for example? They have an assertive, aggressive Venus. But even if you look at the Venus principle itself then you find different dimensions. As a presiding goddess, Inanna, the Babylonian Venus, could have destructive functions as well as nurturing. The epic poem The Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur, relates how around 4,000 years ago Inanna withdrew her protection from Ur leaving the Gutians to sweep in from the north and destroy it, encouraged by the storm god, Enlil. In An Introduction to Political Astrology Charles Carter wrote that Venus represents victory in war, which may be a different way of saying that it’s a planet of peace. But to the Aztecs Venus was the planet which indicated auspicious moments to launch their incredibly bloody wars. In my opinion the evidence shows that the meanings and personalities which we attribute to the planets do not have any external existence. We create them. That is why the Babylonians could have a male Moon and the Japanese a female Sun: there is nothing “archetypally” male about the Sun or female about the Moon. Such things the are labels we need in order to interpret horoscopes. The concept of archetypes provides a great model for linking astrological ideas and symbols, but it’s just a model. It helps us think, and make sense of horoscopes. The planet Venus’ “female” personality has no more reality than the Greek goddess Venus. It’s a myth, and astrology is practical mythology. Just as we create God in our own image, so we create planetary personalities which reflect our culture. That’s why feminist astrologers criticise the concept of a female Venus which conforms to Victorian ideals of the demure maiden who only speaks when she’s spoken to. Actually the conscious attempt to feminise astrology by adding female asteroids to counter-balance the male preponderance of planets is a tacit acceptance of the fact that we make astrology up as we go along. It’s not “out there”. It’s in us. As Jung said, it’s a psychic projection. I think that’s the message of those wonderful medieval “zodiac man” prints: the zodiac is “inside” us. That’s what Shakespeare was saying when he wrote that the fault lies in us, not in our stars. That’s also the point which underpins the Humanistic astrology developed by Rudhyar and others, although I don’t think he took it far enough. 

By the way, I also find it interesting that both the Centre for Psychological Astrology and the Company of Astrologers offer seminars in the tarot, a tacit admission that it’s useful for astrologers. 

Q: What is the positive function of superstition?

A: We can answer this question by looking at the positive function of religion, which provides a framework for action, providing incentives and taboos which encourage certain forms of behaviour and restrict others. An extreme example is the fear of hell or divine retribution as a disincentive to commit crime. Judicial astrology provides a framework for thought. It can be limiting, as when people use their charts as excuses, or fail to keep appointments when Mercury is retrograde. It can also be liberating, enabling the astrologer to make connections which would otherwise be missed. I was reminded of this point by Mavis Klein’s point that when she discovered astrology she was able to get to a client’s relevant problems much quicker than relying purely on conventional psychology. 

Q: If that is the case, then would you say that there are as many astrologies as there are astrologers?

A: Yes, it’s quite clear that – to an extent – there are. Every astrologer brings their own astrology to the situation, and that’s no more of a radical statement than saying, “There are as many medicines as there are doctors” – each doctor will have a slightly different bedside manner and diagnostic approach. So that is, I should have thought, a perfectly true and uncontroversial statement. Like doctors, astro-logers share a central language, but their individual skills and personalities must mean that they are drawn to individual ways of working.

I do think that it’s important for astrologers to be able to communicate with each other. Astrology is a language, and if people start innovating with the language too much, it becomes difficult to hold any meaningful communication. When I got into astrology in the 70’s, it seemed to me that there was quite a bit of irritation with the way that the language of astrology was being stretched in different directions – either tacked very overtly on to psychological models, or expanded via the incorporation of new astronomical bodies, like the asteroids. It might just be me, living down here in Bristol, but I’m not aware of such irritations at the moment. It doesn’t seem to be as bad as in the late seventies and early eighties when some “traditional” astrologers thought that psychological astrology was not proper astrology at all, others thought there was nothing in horary astrology, some thought that any astrology which had not been “proved” was not proper astrology at all, and most looked down on Sun sign astrology. It seems to me now that there’s a great deal more mutual tolerance.

Q: What demarcates a good astrologer from a bad astrologer? How do you differentiate between the person who looks at the wrong chart because that happens to contain the right information for their client at this time, and the person who looks at the wrong chart because they don’t know what they are doing?

A: I don’t think it’s possible to say what makes a good astrologer, because of the fact there are completely different sorts of astrologer, all using astrology in different circumstances. When you began to ask the question, I thought that what makes a good astrologer is caution. That’s because I was thinking of mundane predictions, where people do tend to make outlandish forecasts – some of which are completely ridiculous. On the other hand, very often, totally unexpected things do happen, so one shouldn’t be afraid to make predictions. I can look back and see how we could have forecast Britain going to war with Argentina; but to have forecast such a thing would have been considered ridiculous. It would have been like saying, today, “Switzerland will go to war with Nepal”.

So – caution is necessary, as is common sense. But if you are working with people, your personality is obviously much more important than the astrology. You need to be both very sensitive to other people’s concerns, and confident in what you are saying. Yesterday afternoon I was watching one of these American shows – “the Lisa show”, a bit like the Oprah Winfrey show. They had a numerologist, and this woman was loud, and brash, and totally confident in what she was saying; but also had sensitivity. People would come to the microphone and say, “I’m a five and my baby’s a four; what should we be doing? ” And this woman would give absolutely appropriate, meaningful, on-the-spot advice. She had the personality and the confidence to do it, quite aside from the question of whether there was anything “true” in her numerology or not.

There was a slightly legendary course in about 1980, taught by an astrologer called Chryss Crasswell, who succeeded me as President of BAPS, at one of the South London educational institutes – maybe Wandsworth. This was a ten-week course, taught to local women – uneducated, working class women. Its reputation was that these women instantly became really good astrologers. 

What you don’t need to be a professional astrologer is a lot of technique, and a lot of education alone, without any other qualities. To be a practising astrologer, seeing clients, you need the right personality. You actually don’t necessarily need to know about more than Sun signs and Moon signs. If you’ve got a strong chart and it’s got Pluto on the Ascendant, you can do a whole reading on Pluto on the Ascendant. You don’t necessarily need anything else – you have to pick out what is relevant to the person. The reason I said “Sun signs” and “Moon signs” is because I met somebody the other day who asked me about her chart. She was born on 9th July. So her Sun is about 18 – 20° Cancer – and hence, at the moment Saturn is square her Sun. When I looked in the ephemeris she also has Saturn square natal Saturn, and transiting Saturn is conjunct Saturn at the moment. So it’s an incredibly important point for her; for redefining her limits. I spoke to her for about five minutes about that, but I’m sure I could have done a two-hour reading. Just on that basis. And we could have had a great conversation, because what I said obviously struck a chord.

So while I’m a great advocate of astrological education – as much as possible – that’s really because I’m into education for its own sake. It doesn’t necessarily make decent practising astrologers. You can have all the qualifications in the world and be a really lousy astrologer – but that’s the same in any profession. In any area the greatest professors may not be the best practitioners. I believe that education elevates the spirit, but there are also two practical reasons why astrologers should pursue formal courses. One is so that they learn the common language and the other is so that they learn about the ethics of seeing clients. I think that the Faculty recognised that although their Diploma re-presented a suffi-cient level of astrological education, it was not really enough to justify professional practice, when they instituted their post-diploma counselling course. The CPA provides the same service by insisting that its diploma students are themselves in analysis. I don’t want anyone to think that my words on the limitations of technique are taken as criticism of astrological education, because they’re not.

Q: Suppose that someone is interested in astrology but is also quite sceptical and investigative by nature – could it be that they might have to get a lot of technique under their belt before they would be able to let themselves be good astrologers?

A: Well, yes, one would assume that sceptical people feel safe with rules and regulations. Everyone has to find their own level, with technical or intuitive, or a mixture of both. After all, the fundamental doctrine of natal astrology is that we are all unique. It is therefore impossible to both be an astrologer and argue that some approaches to astrology are “right” and others are “wrong”, even though some people have tried.

Q: In Buddhist philosophy, faith (or confidence) has to balance investigation: you need to enquire, to learn, but learning will be of no use unless you match it with confidence.

A: That’s why, coming back to the subject of data, in that same essay that you quoted in which I talk about the incident in the antique shop, I spoke about the Faculty chart calculation forms. They always used to include the words, “birth time as given” beside the relevant box. They recognised the fact that, in Britain, birth times were not recorded; so if someone goes to an astrologer and says, “I was born at half past four”, they may have a perfectly good reading, and then they find out they were born at half past ten. I know some astrologers who claim that they can always spot wrong data, but my impression after watching astrologers over many years is that it is very difficult to tell a “wrong” chart from a “right ” chart. Most astrologers will make any chart fit any situation. But then, that’s not the point. The point is to use the chart as a means to come up with useful conclusions. 

Q: Could I take a note of your birth data? 
    [Nick Campion's Birth Chart]

A: 4th March 1953, 10 minutes past midnight, in Bristol, 20 Scorpio rising, 13 Pisces Sun and 18 Libra Moon. My Sun is on the IC, and combined with Scorpio’s secrecy, I see that as a good symbol for the fact that I hide myself away in a quiet corner of the world.

Q: What was your background, how did it influence you?

A: My family background is quite religious and intellectual, I suppose. There was a strong predominance in my mother’s side of the family – which is the stronger side – towards teachers and vicars. So it was natural for me to grow up thinking that intangible, or spiritual, matters were what counted. I guess I had the personality as well to want to follow this sort of path. I became aware of astrology when I was about eight – through newspaper horoscopes – and had my first encounter with more detailed astrology when I was eleven. I found a little leaflet about my Sun-sign in a tourist shop in the Norfolk broads, and sent off ten shillings to Madame Francesca of Brighton for more detailed information about Pisces. When it came back, I was stunned at how accurate it was. I felt as if, at last, someone had understood me. It was just a couple of sheets of A4 on the basics of the Piscean personality, but I felt as if I was having my mind read and deepest secrets exposed.

Then when I was fifteen to eighteen, it was the late sixties and early seventies, and I was very attracted to the alternative cultures that were thriving then, and the sort of things I had been secretly interested in as a child suddenly seemed to be coming much more into the public domain. I remember the first time I was picked up by a van of hippies when I was hitching and they asked me what my Sign was and I was astounded that here were people who spoke my language. I was interested in all “alternative” matters, but whatever I studied, astrology seemed to rise to the top of the pile.

I began to study astrology seriously at university, and in my last year started writing written chart interpretations for my friends. I guess that what intrigued me about astrology (probably the same as a lot of other people) was that, while it is – on one level – very intangible and mysterious, it still usually takes its cue from the observable, measurable, cycles of the planets (if we ignore Uranian astrology). So it is the bridge between the subjective and the objective – as it’s presented in the books.

Q: Does that “as it’s presented in the books” imply, “but I see it differently’?

Yes. I think it’s clear from this interview that I’m dissatisfied with a lot of the conventions in astrology and by what I see as our tendency to avoid the difficult questions, such as how can “wrong” data give the “right” reading, or what sort of House system you have if you’re at the North Pole. We’ll face even more fundamental problems when the first baby is born on the Moon, which could happen within the next thirty years. If there’s no Moon in the child’s chart what will represent its mother? The earth? I think it’s time for a radical rethink, for a genuinely humanistic, “person-centred” astrology.

[This interview will be continued in the July/August edition of the Journal]