Brian Clark discusses his book Soul, Symbol and Imagination: the Artistry of Astrology. We share inspiring quotes from the book and along the way talk about house system arguments, how technique can only take you so far, and validating versus proving astrology.
Anthony Howard 0:01
This is the astrology University podcast helping you find inspiration, insight and connection through the study of astrology. And I’m your host, Tony Howard.
Anthony Howard 0:17
Well, hello, and welcome to the astrology University podcast I’m very, very excited to have Brian Clark with me today to talk about his amazing book, Soul, Symbol and Imagination: the Artistry of Astrology which just came out in 2019. Thanks for joining me today, Brian.
Brian Clark 0:33
Well, thank you, Tony. And thank you for inviting me and especially to talk about the book.
Anthony Howard 0:38
Yeah, it’s such a pleasure and honor to have you on the podcast. Brian has been a well loved astrology teacher in Australia and I guess actually got your start in Canada, right? It’s a pleasure and honor to have you on on the show. I thought we would just kind of dive into talking about the book if that’s okay with you.
Brian Clark 1:03
Anthony Howard 1:04
This book reads like a set of wise ruminations on astrology to me after a life in service to mining some of its gifts. In other words, it just really shows that it’s actually the result of a life’s work spent deeply engaged with astrology. And it reads just beautifully, I found as I was reading, and it was just that almost the whole book is underlined. But you have chapter names like imagination, symptom, vocation, time and metaphor, and the titles themselves just lead us into rich territory. They’re really evocative one word titles. And then you set the stage with a with a prologue to the book called considering soul where you set the reader up with the context for the exploration that you’re about to lead them on. And I was just wondering where the inspiration came for the book in general as we start.
Brian Clark 1:58
Well, as you said, it was looking back. I came to a point, of course, in the aging process where it was sort that time to make a change. And so, our center, which we had for all those years, we closed it, and we moved to Tasmania. And I started to look back, I still had my regular clients and so on. But I started to look back on astrology and had more time to consider. When you’re totally involved in that and you’re teaching and seeing clients and the sense of getting enough distance from that, that I could reflect on it. And so I started to reflect, I started doing that by writing. And I think I’d mentioned in the book, one morning I woke up, and it was like I had all the chapter titles there. I wasn’t considering writing a book but they were all there. It came from that, that waking dream. And I consider it like a dream. So I just start to write. And so I think it was the sense of looking back, looking back and what happened? Because when you’re in it, you don’t know what’s happening. I mean, and you would know Tony from from teaching and seeing clients how magic happens in those moments, and you can’t, how did that happen? And so that’s what I was trying to look back on.
Anthony Howard 3:31
Beautiful. Well, I’m so glad you did. The book is just just amazing. Well, in the prologue you write, “I imagine the horoscope to be like a vivid dream. Speaking of dreams, the dream of one’s life and like a dream, it causes us to participate in a conversation with our soul, whatever we imagine that to be.” That’s such a beautiful line there and it’s perhaps a nice lead into my next question, which is, for those who might not be familiar with your work, can you tell our listeners a little about your approach to astrology, and your focus on the creative, imaginative or archetypal approach that you’re describing here.
Brian Clark 4:06
It’s looking back I guess, I go back to 1973 I guess when I first recognized astrology, when I say recognized, I knew I’d heard I heard about it even, and read a little bit about it. I used to live in London when I was 20-21 years old but a few years after that, when I came back to Canada was when I started searching for things and I came across astrology. And it spoke to me in a way as it does to everyone because once you have a study that evokes a deeper meaning, it encourages you to learn, so astrology evoked this urge and desire in me to learn more because it kept offering me deeper meanings to things, things that I didn’t know about. It still evokes that today. It hasn’t lost that and then of course, I started seeing clients. And it was in the work with clients, I think where I started to recognize that something was going on having to sit with a client and hear the story. And oftentimes realize that while the chart could be helpful, it was in listening to the to the client story, that was the most important thing. And, I started to recognize, too, that I could hold this chart for them, I could hold it for them. So I didn’t have to say you have this and you have that and you have everything, because I was holding it for them and they were describing their life. And I was having a relationship with them. And I recognize that right from early on that the most important thing in working with the client was creating relationship. That didn’t mean I was going to have coffee with them or or even have a social life. No, but in that hour and a half I saw them I had a very intimate relationship. And then of course I started to teach astrology and it was in the teaching, as you would know, where you get your best examples, especially in the first year. And by the second year, they start to think, oh, but the first year, it’s just, it’s just triggering. And the best examples are there. So, to answer the question, I would say that I started to honor the fact that something else was going on, besides just the the astrological horoscope and it opened up a bigger gate. I started to recognize that this was a psychological process. And when I say psychological, I’ve mean it in the true sense that the word psychological means to actually study the soul, that astrology was a study of the soul. And I wasn’t being a psychologist. It was very interesting because I only had one year of supervision to finish, being a psychologist, and the psychologist I had seen for supervision said to me one day, “Brian, psychology is not your myth.” And that changed my whole life. That was it. I was an astrologer. Although I couldn’t really, I couldn’t identify with a lot of the other astrologers because I saw it as as this much wider, deeper thing. So I don’t know if I answered the question, but this is always my dilemma. But I then became aware of this larger universe and that’s where I guess the archetype of forms and myth spoke to me. Instead of doing psychology I went back and did my classics and archaeology, did my masters in that because the myths spoke to me. So it was discovering that astrology was much larger than then I could even conceive
Anthony Howard 7:57
Definitely. Another thing you write in the prologue is, quote, “without awareness, as astrological techniques are championed, as the reason for the successful judgment, rather than the key that unlocks the portal of imagination.” Can you tell us a little bit about what you mean there?
Brian Clark 8:16
Well, the techniques of astrology allow us to have a focused imagination, so when we know a technique of astrology, we’re focusing our imagination on that. So, something very, very simple, if we’re talking about, for example, the archetype of Mars, we’re going to focus immediately, our imagination is focused there. So we need to learn all of these techniques and the techniques of astrology, it doesn’t matter, whether Hellenistic or medieval or, or modern or whatever. There’s some amazing techniques and we’ll find that we respond to the techniques in our own way. Some speak to us now. The techniques that speak to us are the ones that stay with us, but the reason they speak to us is that they lead us to some way of knowing that opens something up, it’s something turns and and we see something bigger. And so what I mean by that is, it’s more than technique, the technique will take you to the portal, it will take you to a particular place that then the symbol will open something else up. So if we just keep it in a kind of factual literal way, we have a causal “this means that” but if we use our imagination to focus on particular, I’m sorry, use our techniques to focus, our imagination opens something up much bigger. We start to hear things or see things or feel things or we sense things and then it turns and we find ourselves engaged with with with something that we didn’t know
Brian Clark 10:00
So you see here how I lack the ability to really articulate the process?
Anthony Howard 10:08
Oh, no, I think you I think you did a great job actually.
Brian Clark 10:12
That’s what I was trying to do in the book, I was trying to find ways of articulating what happened to me. Like what was happening to me when I was sitting there with a client. And things were going on beyond the thing. I had that the chart and I had the the symbols and I had the techniques and they led me to a particular place. And then through engagement with the client, something else is going on. They told their story to me. And in their story, something actually happened. So it was as if the techniques hold something for us, and they move us to a particular place and open something up. That’s the whole nature, I think of symbol, that it allows us to actually open something up beyond our own knowledge or an understanding.
Anthony Howard 11:06
beautiful, beautiful and and you do a great job of describing that in the book as well. And also that that openness that that you facilitate through awareness and what you’re describing here even in the quote, and being open to the message or the information or the awareness to arise not only in you but in the client as well and being open and willing to hear what’s coming from them and their experience as well is so important
Brian Clark 11:34
It’s a sense of openness, right? Because one has to be open also. You know, as I always used to tell my students, the clients come not to share their joyful stories with you, at least they never came to me to share their joy because there was a lot of pain and suffering and sadness and I had to be open to that.
Brian Clark 11:56
You know, open to it.
Brian Clark 11:59
I had a call parts of myself at times that had my own losses that and they were triggered. I think I give an example of that in the book, and so they’re triggered. But you learn to contain it and hold it in service of the client in service of astrology really. And I think that’s when the symbol turns Tony – is when when we recognize that we have a relationship that we bring ourselves to it. You’re going to look at a chart in totally different ways then I’m gonna look at a chart. Now hopefully we’ve learned the same techniques or we’ve learned similar techniques that we know that Mars rules, What does it rule Tony? So we know all of that, but what what we don’t know is what we are going to bring to it. You know, and we bring ourselves to it. That’s the most powerful thing to try to, when you’re teaching astrologer to inspire the student to bring themselves to what they’re seeing. And that’s hard because you know, they think, Oh my god, I’m going to be wrong. Yeah, you’re going to be wrong. Yes. If you say Mars rules Libra, that would be wrong, right, but it won’t be wrong to bring yourself to this. And that’s what changes the whole dynamic of a symbol, I feel.
Anthony Howard 13:21
Thank you for that. Well, the first chapter on imagination is one of my favorites. Reading it was just timed perfectly for me, thinking about the importance of imagination and creativity in chart work, because I was right at that moment contemplating the best ways to try to convey that to students in our four year program. And now I can just assign your chapter is assigned reading. So it’s like perfect, but one line from this chapter is the role of imagination and astrology can be easily overlooked, due in part to the continued attempt to validate its systems from a purely causal approach. So I thought we could use that as a jumping point to talk about some of the problems inherent with what you’re describing is the attempt to validate astrology and how, as you write the imaginative process eludes us when we try to articulate it. Can you say more about that?
Brian Clark 14:14
Astrology is this marriage of the imagination and the intellect, isn’t it? It’s the marriage of this and I think that we, when we marry, marry that imagination with the intellect, then then we have a kind of,and by marriage, what I mean is accepting that these symbols have their own intelligence, beyond the intelligence that we’ve ascribed to them because once we ascribe intelligence to symbols, they can become signs get it, and this means that we go off. So I think that the philosophy for me that for me, the philosophy that’s always underpinned astrology is that this fusion of image and reason, and when that happens, it animates and animates horoscope and brings it to life. This this fusion between an image and our rational side. So, once we try to only prove astrology from a literal side, we’re cutting out actually the heart of it in many ways. And then if we try to understand astrology, just from more than the kind of imaginative side, we’ve cut out the body of it, you know, so now to try to put the heart and the body together in our astrology is very difficult. And so I’ve never tried to convince anyone, if they’re willing to listen, I will discuss it with them, but it will not be in a rational way. I’ll try to discuss what it means for me. So I do think this attempt to have to validate astrology is oftentimes an attempt to validate ourselves. Because being astrologers were marginal. Now I’m quite happy being marginal. I’ve never never fitted in very well. But in my practice, Tony, I could say that I’ve had more validation, then I can take. I can’t I can’t take any more validation. You know, because people recommend people to me, yeah, had a wonderful working life and psychologists and teachers and psychiatrists are always recommending their clients to me, they valued astrology in my hands, and to me that was incredibly validating. So I think that validation of astrology starts with us, we validate ourselves. I don’t need validation from anyone else. So I don’t know if I’m describing what you’ve asked or even answering the question, but but it begins with us. Yeah, so I don’t care. To tell you the truth. I always, I always think that’s good if a lot of people don’t validate astrology, because then they’re going to turn it into something like that turned psychology into, I’m quite happy with it being on the margins, thank you very much, because when you’re on the margins, you can see the center, you know, if you’re on the fringe, it’s what keeps a flag intact. And when you’re a marginal person, you could see the center of things. And I think astrology is is a marginal study, and and it takes us into the center because of it.
Anthony Howard 17:40
That’s a nice segue into conversation about this next quote, which is you make a really great point with this one when you say, as in any profession, the debate among practitioners about the authenticity and dependability of certain techniques persists. However, the success of any system rests with practitioner. This is a pet peeve of mine, because we tend to hold astrology to the standard that we don’t hold other professions to. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read on social media that the disagreement over how systems is an embarrassment to the profession or that it should be. And whenever I can I jump into those and just say, you know, in any profession, there are debates about which methods and techniques are best, because two doctors won’t necessarily agree on the best cancer treatment. And two lawyers might cite totally different cases as they prepare their arguments. And yet, we just don’t discount all of medicine or all of law, because how do you how do you teach your students to make decisions in these areas of contention and astrology?
Brian Clark 18:41
Well, first of all, I guess I don’t understand why there’s contention. Because if I understood that there’s a contention, I would have to ascribe to the belief that it’s factual, because if I’m going to argue which house system is better, it would have to be based on fact, now, and that’s not going to happen. So, yes, I think that we’ve gotten ourselves into a bind a bit in astrology by this idea of house system – it doesn’t matter. It’s a symbol. And if I try to, say that my system is the better system, then I’m entering into a kind of a sense of needing to sort of prove it in some factual way I and I won’t be able to do that. I might be able to say that the system I’m using has been used for a long time, that the system I’m using probably has more charts created that way. I might be able to say all these things, but I can’t say but it’s different. So I don’t I think that’s right, that that this idea of debating about house systems is actually not good for our our profession. Because basically we shouldn’t be, we should be honoring the idea that we’re working with a symbolic language. And whether it’s whole sign or equal house, which of course, as we know, it has been right there through our tradition, or whether it’s a more modern placidus doesn’t matter. Charts go better with coke actually. – That’s a joke.
Brian Clark 20:28
So I think the students, what I say about house systems is a continuity. So let’s learn this one. But you know, when everyone started to move to the whole whole sign system, I mean, I couldn’t do that because the sense of my experience was based on the placidus house system that I use. That’s not to say that I didn’t look at it and look at charts with that, but I had all of my attachment and understanding of that model, but I would never say anything is better than anything else in astrology. What I would say is that let’s not get bogged down by technique. If the technique doesn’t speak to us, well, let’s move on because there are enough techniques in astrology to move on to. We inside ourselves when we understand something, you know how we do that, because then we can explain it quite articulate logically or rationally that when we understand something. That’s what I always try to do with the students to help them try to understand and if they don’t understand well, you know, maybe that’s just not for you. But there’s no new technique in astrology that’ comes along that could could change my mind about what I do. I might add it, but I’m not gonna discard what I already know.
Anthony Howard 21:57
Right? Right, because it’s worked because it’s worked for you.
Brian Clark 22:00
Yeah, it works for me. Yeah. And it speaks to me.
Anthony Howard 22:07
Because you’ve received that validation that you were just describing, which isn’t proof. It’s validation of a meaningful experience.
Brian Clark 22:16
Right? Absolutely. It’s a kind of a sense. And, I guess that’s why I’ve always thought that what’s so important in astrology is the engagement with it. You know, it’s like, if I stand see part of what that debate is about is standing apart from it? If I can only debate house systems with you, which is better if I stand apart from it. And I show you 10 cases where it worked, and that one didn’t work. And so I’m standing apart from it, but when you’re not apart from it, and you’re in it, well, you can’t debate it. It’s happening, it’s natural, and that’s when it turns, that’s when your astrology turns into something much more evocative and soulful, when you’re actually engaged with it, engage with it in that way, and also engage in relationship with the client. Now we have to stand outside things in order to know things. There’s no, there’s no doubt about that. We do have to and that’s the learning of the technique. But once we know all of that, then it’s instinctual inherent in us, and then we can enter into that relationship. And I think the students will know when that happens to them.
Brian Clark 23:29
They’ll start to form their own ideas and their own opinions.
Anthony Howard 23:33
Yeah, definitely. That’s something that we for sure, encouraged in our program. Well, your chapter on time is full of many, many gems and insights. And I thought maybe you could expand on this one a little bit you write “the passing of time is characterized by the ever changing arrangements in the universe. This is the nature of astrology. It uses the arrangements of the cosmos in the moment to attempt to give meaning to the nature of time that we’re passing through.” Can you say a few more words about that?
Brian Clark 24:09
What springs to mind is that when you are engaged with astrology, it happens. It does happen in the moment, it’s like, I bet if we were doing the chart of this moment, my moon would be on the midheaven, or your sun would be on the ascendant, we see it immediately. We’re engaged, and it’s amazing, every moment has that, but we don’t have eyes to see every moment. We only have the eyes to see the moments that we’re studying, but it’s happening every moment. And I think that’s very, very important. What I tried to describe in that chapter of time was to, suggest how we oftentimes get caught in the linear and chronological movement of time. We have the Saturn Uranus square coming up. So we define that moment in time. But that moment in time has vibrations in many other moments in time. So this moment in time, it’s all engaged in the chart of this moment as well. So again, I feel my words fail. But it’s the kind of involvement with time as astrologers where we are not just dealing with literal chronological time, but we’re dealing with timelessness and a sense of eternity, a sense of a cycle that has happened over and over and over again.
Brian Clark 25:45
A sense of being involved in that way.
Anthony Howard 25:50
I was just reflecting back on the day I actually read that chapter was just a lovely day. I was sitting on the porch and It was a beautiful summer day, and you just do such a good job of just calling in calling the reader into reflect on the nature of time itself. And then of course, what astrology can contribute to that understanding and reflecting on time. I was just in the moment, just pausing and being with the energy of that moment as well. So you were you were kind of taking me back there. So thank you.
Brian Clark 26:27
it’s one of the things that the comments I had about the book, people say it’s like meditation, or they’ll reread chapters and put away. But time, it’s quite fascinating because we deal with time, time’s very powerful. It’s time and place, that we bring down and it’s like a matrix on to the earth. So time is always really important to consider. Because the students used to, they hated this joke, but I would tell them all the time, they’d say, “oh, what orb” when I was talking about Pluto transits. “What orb should I use?” And I always say 360 degrees. So I used to have fun with the students. And they used to get quite angry with me. Because I tried to show them something else. I always remember one of the classes, one of the students saying like, is a Saturn Venus square good or bad? And I said, Yes. Thank you very much. And I move on. And she gets a little bit more annoyed with me. And Is that good or bad? And I say yes, yes. Thank you. Thank you very much. And finally she would get frustrated. She said, You haven’t answered my question. Yeah. Is that good? Or is it bad? I said, Well, it’s good. If you’re a nun, but not so good if you’re a working girl. That’s what I said. But the thing is, is that we have to have fun with astrology, we can’t put into judgmental terms and we can’t put time into a kind of one degree orb we can when we’re learning astrology, we must. But when you’re sitting with a client, you know, sometimes they’ve lost a pet. And that’s triggered a avalanche of grief for their whole life. You know, how can you time that? You know, okay, there’s the Pluto, all they lost was the pet and yet they’re just devastated for the beyond. So how do you how do you time all of that? So it’s like forming again, your own experience of working with that. That becomes very, very important. It’s tricky.
Anthony Howard 28:52
Yeah, complicated, complicated stuff. Well, I thought maybe we could close with a response to this important point that you make The tendency that we have to use astrology as an expression of our inherent desire to control our life and specific outcomes, it’s something that just seems to be in our nature and that some of us have to fight against more than others. But you write “in a commercial outer directed world where control rather than participation with the cosmos is emphasized. These astrological techniques can become trivialized and directed by desire and will, yet in a world respectful of soul, these techniques encourage participation in time when we consider our motives and are mindful of the possibilities and resources inherent in the moment.” Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by that?
Brian Clark 29:43
Well, I think what I was trying to portray there was the fact that when astrology invites us to participate, okay, we’ve got, Saturn transiting our sun, it invites us to participate in that. Yes. I don’t want to feel like there’s a heavy weight on my chest. Yes, I do not want to feel that I’m, in the wrong vocation. Yes, I don’t want to. But if that is the way I’m feeling, then this transit is asking me to participate with that feeling in order to know that part of myself. So, we could look at it and say, yes, it’ll be over soon. But it won’t be over soon if that part of myself that has been actually in transition has never been felt or experienced, or opened up. And so it’s like I was trying to express the idea that the invitation to participate is actually the clue and the mystery of astrology because that’s when things change. I also think it’s kind of folly to think that we’re in control. We’re in control of certain things. But in terms of the big things, no. And also, in many of our transits, it didn’t start with us. It started generations ago. And there’s many things to consider in terms of astrology, but I would have never studied it, and I would have never stayed with it. If it was something that was helping me control something, that would have limited my life. It would have limited who I was, it would have limited the experience of knowing myself and where I was going in life. So part of it was this ability to participate with something bigger, that then changed the course and direction and dimension of my life. And that I’ll always be grateful for astrology, I feel quite emotional saying this, but it has been something that’s offered me a view of life that nothing else ever did in my life, and so it offered me a resource, it offered me a living, it provided all the things that I ever needed. But I don’t think I would have gotten there if I was trying to control it. I got there because it happened with me and hopefully I’m open enough to that there are things I would say that I would still wish weren’t there and I wish I could do something about that. But I’m always asked to participate with that side of myself. We do all have Pluto and Saturn and squares and all these kind of things and do you know, I have so many minuses in my chart when I add up all those things. But there’s something I have to deal with, I don’t necessarily know whether I chose that or was given to me or why I have it. I just know I have it and I participate with it.
Anthony Howard 33:10
Yeah, well said. I don’t know that it always helps to ask why.
Brian Clark 33:14
Brian Clark 33:17
Because You might find out
Brian Clark 33:20
and and I think that if we’re if we’re at the end and I would just like to say that, that one of the great things about astrology is its mystery. And so to answer your question again, it might be like, I never studied astrology to take the mystery away or try to solve the mystery. I mean, it wasn’t a kind of card game. It wasn’t a board game or it’s certainly not a murder mystery game. I never wanted the mystery to go away. Because if it went away then what’s next? You know? So mystery is always so important. I think in it and always entering it with I don’t know, I do not know. Okay, I know where all the planets are. I know everything like that, but I really don’t know how the client has has experienced that, but I’m going to find out.
Anthony Howard 34:07
Beautiful. Well, thank you so much for spending some time with me today. And, folks, please check out Brian’s book, “Soul Symbol and Imagination, The Artistry of Astrology”, highly recommended. And Beautiful, beautiful book, as you’ve just heard. So, thanks for tuning in today, folks. And we look forward to seeing you next time and I hope to have you back on the show again, Brian. Thank you. Thank you.
Anthony Howard 34:32
Well, thanks for listening, folks. And be sure to check out our event calendar at astrologyuniversity.com/calendar. And some of our upcoming events include special four week workshop with Kelly Surtees, where she’ll be teaching on the lunar phases personality and special chart configurations that runs September 14 through October 5th, and then September 19 we have a special webinar with Stephanie Gailing on the astrological approach to flower essences, and that webinar is called Stellar Elixirs. That’ll be Saturday September 19 at 9am pacific time. We have a new online course coming September 23 – October 19 on the four angles, so it’s an entire four week course on the four angles taught by myself, Tony Howard and Darby Costello, September 23 to October 19. Classes are held on Wednesdays. That course includes live q&a sessions on Sundays. So head over to astrologyuniversity.com and check out what we have coming up next.
Anthony Howard 35:34
And before we say goodbye for this episode, our featured nonprofit this month is rockthevote.org. In 1990, music executives founded Rock the Vote in response to the censorship of hip hop and rap artists. Their first partnership with MTV promoted the message that censorship is unamerican and activated millions of young people across the country to exercise their rights and represent their interests. For 30 years rock the boat has continuously adapted to that changing landscapes of media, technology and culture to break through and empower each new generation. To get involved or donate, visit rockthevote.org to learn more.
Anthony Howard 36:11
Well, thanks for listening today and we’ll see you next time. Until then take care.