Interview with Nick Campion - Part
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.
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
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
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
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
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”
interview will be continued in the July/August edition of the