An Interview with Dennis Flaherty
by Kate Sholly
Dennis Flaherty is one of the few Westerners who is practiced and certified in both Western and Eastern astrology; he has been certified through Professional Astrologers, Inc. and has been awarded the Jyotish Kovid and Jyotish Vachaspati by B. V. Raman of the Indian Council of Astrological Sciences. He is currently Education Committee Chair of AFAN (Association for Astrological Networking) and Membership Chair for ACVA (American Council of Vedic Astrology). He served four times as President of the Washington State Astrological Association and is the NW Regional Vice President for the American College of Vedic Astrology.
Dennis writes regularly for The Mountain Astrologer and is the author of "Mythic Measurements of the Moon’s Nodes" and "The Eastern Moon through Western Eyes," featured in anthologies from Llewellyn and Samuel Weiser. Dennis teaches Vedic astrology through his Audio Correspondence Course, which was released in 1998 and is distributed in several countries. He is the founder and director of the NW Institute of Vedic Sciences, in Seattle, Washington, where he consults in private practice and teaches and tutors a curriculum in astrology. Dennis resides in the greater Seattle area with his wife Patricia and four daughters: Jennifer, Stephanie, and the lovely East—West Mercurial twins, Sara and Natalie. He can be reached at the NW Institute of Vedic Sciences, 7212 Woodlawn Ave N.E., Seattle, WA 98115; (206) 525-2229; Web site: www.vedicsciences.com; e-mail: email@example.com
Tell us how astrology came into your life?
I’ve been interested in astrology since I was 15 years old, to the chagrin of my Catholic mother. I’d probably describe myself as a philosopher first, because I have a great love of both knowledge and history. Throughout my youth, I studied many traditions and religions. I was a good altar boy until I reached a point of disillusionment. Over the years, I’ve broadened out very much into Eastern traditions and concepts, although I’ve always utilized Eastern concepts in my practice of Western astrology.
I became interested in Vedic astrology in the mid 1980s when I began to hear people speak eloquently about it. One of the people I credit is James Braha, who wrote a very timely book back then, called Ancient Hindu Astrology for Modern Western Astrologers.1 James galvanized those of us who were interested in Vedic Astrology with a book that was finally modern. Many of the available texts prior to that were very pejorative and problematic; the classic texts were sometimes quite negative. In 1990, several of us got together at the First International Symposium of Vedic Astrology in San Rafael, California. The symposium drew about 65 people, and from that time the interest has continued to grow.
I began to move in the direction of the sidereal zodiac and Vedic astrology in the early 1980s, until finally, by the early 1990s, I considered myself primarily a Vedic astrologer but one who still used some very powerful Western techniques. I still identify myself as an East—West astrologer because I typically use both systems, but I utilize the systems of Vedic astrology more than Western astrology.
It seems that Vedic astrology is really catching on in the Western world at this time. Why do you think that is?
In the West, there are many of us who can no longer take sustenance from the religion or philosophy of our time. We’re looking for answers to the most fundamental life questions, like "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "What is the purpose of this life?" Vedic astrology can help to answer this kind of question because it has always been an integral part of India’s religious tradition. Many Indian spiritual texts speak highly of astrology, particularly the Bhagavad Gita. In the earliest of the Vedas, it is said that if you want to know your purpose in life, consult an astrologer. Another text says that a king without an astrologer is like a man who’s blind in his own home. So, there’s a rich wellspring of spirituality at the core of Vedic astrology that attracts a certain kind of Westerner.
Can Vedic astrology give us information about our stage of spiritual development?
The goal of Hinduism is moksha, or enlightenment, which means to transcend or get off the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth. The astrological chart in India is thought of as a portrait of the soul’s karmas, resulting from actions taken along the way. These actions, over time, constitute the overall development of the soul. Interestingly, each planet in Vedic astrology is associated with a particular stage of soul development. For instance, a strong Venus or Jupiter in a chart might indicate a person whose level of development is that of a priest or philosopher; a strong Sun or Mars might show a warrior; a strong Saturn would point to a soul who is serving others. So, by looking at certain elements and lordships and planets, a Vedic astrologer gets an abstract picture of the current state of the soul. It’s been my experience that Westerners are getting hungrier for this kind of information at this point in time. Being a Vedic astrologer in the West can be rather intense at times, because clients will challenge you with deeply dharmic questions about path and purpose.
What are some of the main features of Vedic astrology that set it apart from Western astrology?
Well, for starters, Vedic astrology uses the sidereal zodiac, not the tropical zodiac. Further, the Nodes of the Moon, Rahu and Ketu, are given full planetary status, and they’re very powerful. Also, Vedic astrology does a lot more with house rulerships than Western astrology does. Actually, in Vedic astrology, the houses are more powerful than the planets, because the houses that a planet owns determine whether that planet is positive or negative. When two planets are conjoined in Western astrology, one plus one equals two, but when two planets are conjoined in Vedic astrology, one plus one equals four. It’s an exponential relationship, because every planet, except the Sun and Moon, owns two houses. The rising sign is all-important in Vedic astrology, because the rising sign and the house rulerships combine to form the yogas of the astrological chart. So, it’s principally the linkage of houses that creates this unique phenomenon of yogas, for which there is no equivalent in Western astrology.
Additionally, Vedic astrology has a timing sequence called the dasha system, which tells us when the various yogas come to fruition. For example, when there is a beautiful Venus in a Western chart, that person is said to be imbued with the qualities of that Venus for life. In Vedic astrology, a beautiful Venusian yoga in a birth chart doesn’t totally mature until a person’s Venus dasha begins. All of a sudden, the person becomes popular or gets married, or if they happen to be an artist, their star rises. This is a very powerful tool, because it sets the tone for an extended period of time – some of these dashas, like Venus, have a 20-year influence and can create a powerful overlay in a chart.
To put it another way, during a planet’s dasha period, it is given dominion, which means that the transits of that planet become much more important. Let’s take another example: Western astrologers consider Jupiter transiting over a person’s Ascendant to be a wonderful thing, no matter when it happens, but, in Vedic astrology, it would have much more of an effect if the person were experiencing Jupiter’s dasha period. It would have a powerful positive effect if Jupiter were a benefic for the person’s chart.
What do you like about Western astrology and what it has to offer?
Of course, like many Western astrologers, I use the secondary progressed Sun and Moon. I greatly admire the work of Dane Rudhyar who, by the way, took his name from the Vedic god Rudra, which means "the howler" or "the awakener" in Sanskrit. He was a Dane who was going to awaken astrologers. I also use Rudhyar’s progressed lunation cycle, which gives very dramatic results. There’s no equivalent technique in Vedic astrology.
I like to use solar arc directions, which happen to translate well in either system, and I also use the transits of the outer planets. Those of us who are what I call neo-Vedic astrologers tend to use the outer planets, even though they’re not part of the original Vedic system. As a sidereal astrologer, I was very excited about Uranus coming into the constellation of Aquarius in April. In the sidereal system, Uranus doesn’t own that constellation – Saturn does – so Uranus is going to come into Saturn’s sign. For this reason, we know it’s not going to be about peace and love ruling the planets and stars; it’s going to be a time of some wonderful breakthroughs, because Uranus breaks down the Saturnian traditions and conventions.
I’ve always looked at the transits of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto over sensitive points in birth charts, but like ancient Western astrologers and Vedic astrologers, I do not give them any sign rulership. They are an exciting element of Western astrology that gives great depth and insight to my readings, for which there is no equivalent in the practice of Vedic astrology.
Lastly, I use eclipse patterns as a timing tool, and I do not always see them as negative events. There is much that is positive in eclipse patterns, particularly if you know how to move inward with the energy and not against it.
Are there similarities between the two systems?
I’d like to show you how the two systems sometimes say the same thing, but in very different ways. In Western astrology, Mars in Aries is considered to be quite strong, so when Western astrologers discover that their Aries Mars becomes a Pisces Mars in the Vedic system, they become very upset. They’ve identified themselves with a strong, virile Mars, and in contrast, they see Mars in Pisces as something of a wuss. So, obviously this means that Vedic astrology does not work. What’s interesting is that the qualities of the sign of Aries are very similar in both the Western and Vedic systems, but the Vedic take on Pisces is very different from the meaning of Pisces in Western astrology. Pisces is not at all a wuss in Vedic astrology; it’s owned by Jupiter, as opposed to transcendental Neptune, and it’s very emotionally evocative. It’s actually a devotional sign. Also, Jupiter and Mars are brothers in Vedic astrology, so they get along really well. And because Mars is in Jupiter’s sign, the person will be emotionally expressive and charismatic, more philanthropic. For example, if Jupiter is in Pisces and in an angle, it forms a great yoga called hamsa yoga, which means "the swan." The person may be a teacher or a guru, and many of them are lawyers and CEOs.
Another place of similarity that I find interesting is that, in Western astrology, we tend to look like our rising sign. For instance, many people will look at me and say, "he’s obviously a Gemini Ascendant," which, of course, I am. What’s fascinating is that I have Taurus rising in the Vedic system, but I look like a Gemini. Why? Because in Vedic astrology, people do not look like their rising sign; they look like the sign on the cusp of the 2nd house. Due to precession, the 2nd house in Vedic astrology is often the 1st house in Western astrology. Examples like this show us that both systems work and are eloquently expressive in their own ways.
Most Western astrologers no longer think of certain planets as malefic. Do you see obvious effects of malefic planets, or bad karmas, in clients’ charts?
This is a great question, one of the burning questions of the day. This whole notion of Vedic astrology being a karma-based system is profoundly controversial, because it involves the age-old debate of determinism versus free will. I’d like to briefly address this controversial issue of karma and determinism. One of the criticisms of Vedic astrology, particularly among psychologically oriented astrologers, is that it is fatalistic, or predictive. But I don’t call it predictive astrology; I call it protective astrology. If someone is driving toward a cliff at a high speed, it’s easy to predict that the car will go over the cliff, but it’s a lot more difficult to protect the client from going over the cliff. It’s not the goal of Vedic astrology to ingrain people in their karmas, but rather to free them; in this way, it is humanistic in its approach.
You know, Vedic astrology is no different from our psychological and medical models in terms of how it deals with people’s suffering. If you think about it, there’s an aspect of psychology that is deterministic, in that the psychologist is determining, or naming, someone’s neurosis, but the real goal is to free the clients from said neurosis. In our time, gene therapy is making it possible to predict who is more likely to develop a certain illness, but the physician’s goal is to mitigate the predilection to an illness and to free the client from that affliction. Vedic astrologers see specific karmas in the natal chart, but the goal is not to instill fear. In the classic texts, the goal of an astrologer is to see where the hope is in the astrological chart in order to help clients mitigate their negative karma. Prediction is for the benefit of the astrologer’s ego. Protection and mitigation are for the benefit of the client’s karma.
Does this mean that you don’t tell clients what the ancient textbooks say about a specific karma in their charts if it’s particularly negative?
It’s important to remember that astrology is an abstract science. The goal is not to memorize these classical texts and just become a talking reiteration of them. Rather, the goal of an astrologer is to interpret, to synthesize, to put these ancient ideas into a contemporary language that clients can relate to. Again, the goal is not to get hung up on the death-inflicting combinations, but to see the life-giving combinations and help to affirm and align a person’s consciousness with those life-giving configurations. The goal of Jyotish is moksha, or transcendence of the negative that stands between us and enlightenment.
What’s behind the notion that some planets are malefic? How did this idea evolve?
As you may know, Vedic astrology is aligned with the practice of Ayurveda, India’s natural healing system. It’s also called the science of life and has everything to do with the balance of the elements. In Ayurveda, there are three doshas, or biological humors. Kapha is associated with water, Pitta with fire, and Vata with air. The natural benefics – Jupiter, Venus, and a bright Moon – tend to be wet and are, therefore, kapha-inducing. Mercury has the properties of all three doshas, depending on the nature of the planets it associates with. The planets we call malefic – Mars, Saturn, and to a lesser degree, the Sun – are associated with pitta and vata. Saturn is vata, or dry, and Mars and the Sun are pitta, or hot. The South Node of the Moon is pitta, and the North Node is vata.
The symbolism of these elements, or doshas, says: If the benefic planets are strong, it rains just enough to soften the soil so it can be plowed. This means that whatever is planted there – whatever karma – will grow. But when the water doesn’t come and the sun beats down harshly, the ground becomes dry and cracks, making it hard to plow. If seeds are planted, they will not grow; they’ll be blown away by the wind. So, the natural malefics cause heat and dryness and are not conducive to new growth or new life. Saturn has many great qualities, but he also aids and abets the aging process. Like that cracked ground, we get a few more wrinkles; we dry up. There are diseases that come with that dryness, and there are diseases that come from too much heat in the body, or loss of heat, or too much heat in the wrong areas.
The goal of Ayurveda, which is also the goal of Jyotish, is to bring a natural state of balance, where it rains just the right amount and the sun shines just the right amount so the seeds can grow and the ground can be plowed. If it rains too much, there’s flooding; if it doesn’t rain enough, there’s drought and famine. Often, the gift of a great Saturn in an astrological chart is his restraining effect. Let’s say that someone has a challenging Mars configuration, and the influence of Saturn upon it holds it back. It’s just that we don’t like Saturn holding back money or love from us, but when Saturn holds back temper or affliction – or delays it – we see that as a good thing.
Ayurveda and Jyotish are all about finding balance in the astrological chart. That’s what healers are looking for; that’s what psychologists are looking for. And it’s our karmas and our neuroses that don’t allow us to have balance. Sadly, most people view karma as a negative thing, but believe me, there are real upbeat karmas in almost every astrological chart. There are powerful yogas that give extraordinary gifts and spiritual upliftment. On the other hand, I’ve had very few people come to me and ask me how to spend their money after winning the lottery! People usually come when there’s a challenge, or a loss, that has driven them into introspection, and usually those challenges come from the more malefic planets and karmas. So, who’s to say what’s good or bad? If good comes out of malefic configurations, are those planets really bad?
Are malefic planets always malefic, or does that depend on the context in which they appear?
No, they’re not always malefic. The house rulerships are one of the most exciting aspects of Vedic astrology. When a planet in a chart owns very auspicious houses, as determined by the rising sign, that planet becomes a first-rate benefic for the astrological chart, whether it’s a natural benefic or malefic, but it becomes a benefic according to its nature. For example, Saturn is a benefic planet for those who have a Taurus Ascendant or a Libra Ascendant. Saturn is what we call the raja yoga karaka for these Ascendants, because he connects two of the best houses in the chart through his rulership. For Cancer and Leo Ascendants, Mars is the raja yoga karaka planet. Now, understand: Mars is still Mars and Saturn is still Saturn, but when either of these is the raja yoga karaka planet and is also well aspected, it becomes stronger in a beneficial way. For instance, Mars will manifest as more of an advocate instead of being his typical warriorlike self, and Saturn will imbue the person with wisdom, honor, and the respect of elders. This will indicate a person who has self-restraint, rather than a fearful, disrespecting person who has no self-restraint and, therefore, feels the need to control everything around them. The same is true for so-called benefic planets. Jupiter and Venus are usually very nice planets, but for certain Ascendants during certain times, they can become problematic planets.
What’s the difference between a good planet that is poorly placed and a bad planet that is positively placed?
A great planet can be in a very weak placement – either in a weak house or sign and/or associating with weak planets. We always say "location, location, location." It’s just like real estate: If you have a great Jupiter and you put him in a bad house, it’s like putting a king in a rundown house in a bad part of town. He’s still a king, but he lives in a shanty and hangs out with bad people, although he is good for these people. They feel good about the king, but the king is essentially impotent due to his poor placement and association.
Similarly, a bad planet for a chart can be in a good place, with good planets around it, and this improves the planet’s influence. In other words, if you take a bad guy like Mars and put a good guy on either side of him, how much harm can he do? How much trouble is he going to get into? But if you put him with some other bad guys, like Rahu or Ketu, and under a certain affliction of Saturn, you’ve got a bad guy, in a bad part of town, working for bad people. He’s going to get into trouble.
Why are the nodes of the Moon thought to be malefic?
Well, the nodes of the Moon are fascinating. They’ve been one of my areas of research for years. In Vedic astrology, the North Node is known as Rahu and the South Node as Ketu. As both Eastern and Western astrologers know, the nodes are very powerful points on the ecliptic. These points are associated with the nagas, which are the dragons of Indian culture. In the East, dragons are very auspicious beings. The Wung Lung, the dragon kings of China, are very similar to the naga kings of India. The nodes are powerful, intoxicating, amplifying energies, because they’re right on the ecliptic, and when other planets are associated with the nodes, they are also amplified and intensified. So, if the nodes are with a negative configuration, they will intoxicate and amplify that configuration for the worse, and if they’re with an uplifting configuration, they will uplift that configuration. If they are intensifying the right type of configuration, the nodes can actually form some positive raja yogas, but if they’re amplifying negative configurations – as they are in the charts of serial killers like Charles Manson and Theodore Bundy – they bring out the worst in humanity.
So, the nodes are not, in and of themselves, malefic planets?
The nodes are classified as natural malefics because they are associated with eclipses, and they intensify, or amplify, the nature of the planets they are with, which creates imbalance. Rahu engulfs the Sun during a solar eclipse, and this is symbolic of the avarice of the material world blinding humanity to the true eternal self. But when the nodes are in the right houses with the right planets, they can be powerful, uplifting influences.
What are the right houses and planets for the nodes?
When the nodes fall in houses 1, 4, 7, or 10 (angles) and are associated with a planet that owns a trine house (1, 5, 9), or when the nodes are in a trine house with a planet that owns an angle, this forms a powerful raja yoga, according to the nature of the planet the node is amplifying. This is very, very powerful. The nodes also do well in the growing houses (3, 6, and 11), which welcome natural malefics. When placed in these houses, the nature of the planet can improve over time, with effort.
Ketu, the South Node of the Moon, is a very spiritual planet in Vedic astrology. He is much like Neptune in Western astrology, only it’s a Neptune with a lot of attitude; it is both spiritual and fiery. Ketu is like the famed Shaolin monk in Kung Fu: "I’m really spiritual and nice until you say something about my mother!" When Ketu is with a benefic (Jupiter or Venus), he can give great spiritual insight. With Mars or Saturn, he can cause problems unless there is some benefic influence. Ketu with the Sun and Moon can give great spiritual tendencies, but with the Moon he can create mental imbalance when other malefic planets are involved.
Rahu, the North Node of the Moon, is the opposite of Ketu. He is material in nature, and he can give great success when rightly placed with Jupiter. Several charismatic male movie stars have Rahu with Mars, like Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood. This is a good placement for all that masculine energy. Rahu with the Sun can give fame and, with Mercury and the Moon, can create mental imbalance. I give an extensive mythology and numerous examples of nodal contacts in an anthology called Astrology’s Special Measurements.2
I understand that the Sun is a mild malefic. Let’s talk about what the Sun represents in the Vedic system.
The Sun is each person’s atma, or individual soul. It’s in a category by itself. The stronger the Sun, the more a person will have eminence or display charisma, the more they’ll stand out. The Sun’s strength can express itself in this temporal world as a righteous king, but it can also express itself as the king of kings, who seeks the eternal realized self of the enlightened soul and shines forth the light that removes the darkness of avidya, or ignorance. Obviously, we like to see a strong Sun, but like anything else, the Sun can be too strong, becoming malefic. In our sidereal system, Adolf Hitler goes from being a Taurus to an Aries Sun, with his Sun exalted in the constellation of Aries and with Mars and other planets in Aries. Hitler is a good example of the arrogance of the Sun when it is afflicted. People become sociopaths, which means they think only about themselves; other people exist only to serve their ends. That’s the mark of a deranged king.
Why is the Moon so important in the Vedic system?
The Moon is important because it shows us the nature of our emotional mind. It has to do with what we’re identified with, what we pay attention to, what we like and dislike. I like to quote the great Western yogi, Yogi Berra, of the New York Yankees. Yogi said: "In life, what you see is what you get." That’s why they say that, if a pickpocket meets the Dalai Lama, all he sees is his pockets. Your Moon is about how you’re going to perceive this life. Are you going to look at the glass as half full or half empty? Will you be obsessed with one area of life and ignore another? Of course, wherever you look, there you are. You can’t get away from yourself and your perspective.
So, the Moon is the determining factor in terms of what you look at, what you’re drawn to, in life, and this is why the dasha cycle you’re born into is so important. There is a conditioning quality on the planet that first imprints on you. So, if what you see is bad, you might say: "This isn’t so good. I’d like to look at something else." And that’s the beginning of the process of enlightenment. Breaking the identification with whoever you think you are is the beginning of transcendence.
Like the Moon, Mercury is associated with the mind, but in a very different way. How would you characterize this difference?
The Moon is associated with awareness, and awareness is given to us largely through our senses. Our senses allow the Moon, or mind, to be impressed – to hear the words that people are speaking, to see what people are doing. If your Moon is strong, the senses are alive – you’ve got good hearing, good eyesight, a good sense of smell. The Moon doesn’t necessarily have judgments about what it observes. Mercury represents the discriminating intellect, the part of each person whose job it is to make value judgments. So, the Moon observes and Mercury gives value to what we observe. The Latin root merc means "to trade," as in merchandising, mercenary, merchant, or the big buzzword of our time, marketing, which should really be called "merceting." The Moon sees and Mercury sells it to others.
You can have a strong Mercury in your chart and be a good businessperson, but you can have the awareness of a crab. On the other hand, you can have a great Moon and be a very self-aware individual, but if you don’t have a good Mercury, you won’t be able to take full advantage of this awareness. When you have both a bright Moon and a good Mercury, you have the best of both worlds. But again, it depends on where they’re placed. Bill Gates is a great example of someone who has both.
There’s another very interesting phenomenon that results from certain Moon—Mercury placements. A good Moon, one that is very bright and aware, gives a sense of belongingness, whether that be to one’s family or to life in general. But this wonderful sense of belonging can also dampen a person’s drives and ambitions – they may be too content. In this case, a strong Mercury can create more balance. On the other hand, when the Moon is isolated and weak in the chart, the person has more of a sense of separateness and aloneness, but if they have a good Mercury, they may use that Mercury to reach out try to and end their isolation.
I find the nakshatras of the Moon fascinating, as we have nothing that even remotely compares to them in tropical astrology. What can you tell us about them?
The 27 lunar nakshatras correspond to the sidereal cycle of the Moon, which is how long it takes the Moon to travel through all of the stars in all the constellations. The mythologies of the nakshatras are very rich and have a comparable depth to the Greco-Roman myths most of us are familiar with. They are also permeated with astronomy. It is said that, when the Moon is in a particular nakshatra, it exemplifies and shines forth the quality of the stars in that nakshatra. For the record, the nakshatras are all female and are the daughters of the great progenitor, Daksha Praja Pati. All the planets are masculine and all the nakshatras are feminine, so we’re looking at the masculine interaction of the planets moving through the feminine backdrop of the nakshatras.
Depending upon the nakshatra your Moon and other planets in your chart inhabited at birth, the mythologies of the stars in those particular nakshatras will influence your individual interests and predilections. Some nakshatras are deva; they’re very high. Some are rakshasa; they’re more interested in earthly things and the fulfillment of desires. But from the Vedic point of view, no nakshatra is better or worse than another. It’s all grist for the mill of enlightenment. So, it’s particularly important to find out what nakshatra the Moon was in at birth, the planetary rulership of that nakshatra, and the mythologies associated with it. Dennis Harness recently released a book on the nakshatras, and it’s a treasure trove of the characteristics and mythologies of the 27 lunar mansions.3
So, each nakshatra is owned by a planet?
That’s right. Let’s say that, at birth, your Moon is placed in the nakshatra of Ashlesha, which is owned by the planet Mercury. Ashlesha falls in the last 13 degrees and 20 minutes of the constellation of Cancer, making it a Cancer Moon, but it’s a Cancer Moon with the Mercurial qualities of Ashlesha. Ashlesha is a serpent nakshatra that is ruled by a great naga, the serpent king. What this means is that Mercury, the planet that owns this nakshatra, will be the first cycle you experience in life, and we all know from the psychology of early childhood development, that the first things that are brought before our minds ultimately make the deepest impressions. Ashlesha is known as the embracer, much like the serpent that is its deity. If the serpent wraps himself around the truth, the Moon here gives great psychological insight and an interest in enlightenment. If the serpent seizes some imitation of the truth, the Moon in Ashlesha can be deceitful and delusional, the proverbial used car salesman.
These nakshatras are a very powerful aspect of Vedic astrology, because they can explain why two people who are born on the same day in the same place can be so different from each other. Obviously, the only planet or point that will have moved significantly is the Moon. Although the charts are almost identical, these people will be starting life in different planetary periods, giving them different perceptions of life. The nakshatras tell us how the mind, which is represented by the Moon, is initially imprinted
So, the nakshatras add a whole new level to the interpretation of a Vedic chart, since all of the planets are in a specific nakshatra at birth.
Vedic astrologers are always looking at and synthesizing two systems: the constellations that planets fall in and the yogas they make; and the nakshatras that planets fall in and how they express themselves on that level. The more congruence there is between the two, the more harmony there is and the better those energies express themselves. The less congruence there is, the less harmony there is and the more discordant the expression of those energies becomes. It’s just like playing a bad tune: The musical notes are individually great but, in the wrong combination, they sound terrible. Astrologers have to look at the whole picture. What makes the tapestry of art is not one or two particularly bright colors but how all of the colors come together and converge.
Let’s talk about the challenges of practicing both Western and Vedic astrology.
In the Western community, there has been, in my opinion, some backlash about the notion that the karmic predictive element of Vedic astrology limits free will. Some Western astrologers are, therefore, unhappy with Vedic astrology, and we incur their wrath, because they do not understand the role of karma in Eastern thought and how the concepts of karma permeate the practice of Jyotish. In the Eastern community, there are astrologers who believe that the sidereal system is infinitely superior, because it is more astronomically correct and, therefore, more true and precise than its tropical counterpart. Consequently, they consider those of us who use the Western system to be hypocrites and do not hesitate to tell us so when they have the opportunity. This sandwiches those of us who utilize both systems between being fatalists and being hypocrites in the eyes of our detractors. Neither label is very appealing.
I have no delusions that I’m going to resolve the tropical vs. sidereal controversy at this time. For me, using both systems enriches my astrological chart interpretation, much like the joy of being bilingual. Sometimes I can say things better in one language than in another. Speaking of twos, the irony is not lost on me that I have recently become the father of identical twin girls. People ask me if I can tell them apart. Yes, I can tell them apart, and I am able to play with both of them at the same time. But, let me tell you, it has been a brand new learning curve – just like using both systems of astrology.
The challenges of combining both systems have to do with constantly looking for congruency between the systems, because they are both saying the same thing but saying it in their own unique symbolism and language. As astrologers, whether Eastern or Western, we each choose our own techniques from the vast array available to us. I think I can say that no two astrologers use the exact same techniques. The real challenge is in keeping both systems separate and not applying the sidereal transits to the tropical chart, and vice versa. Sometimes, just keeping all of your techniques on the table before you can be a major challenge until you become practiced in keeping each system sovereign in its own right. The reconciling factor for me is that I embrace whatever tool I’m using in the spirit of what Mahatma Gandhi called satyagraha – to seize the truth of the matter. I try to seize the truth of the matter for the benefit of my clients. Truth has no East—West distinction.
1. James Braha, Ancient Hindu Astrology for Modern Western Astrologers, Longboat Key, FL: Hermetician Press, 1986.
2. Dennis Flaherty, "Mythic Measurements of the Moon’s Nodes," in Astrology’s Special Measurements, St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1993.
3. Dennis M. Harness, Ph.D., The Nakshatras: The Lunar Mansions of Vedic Astrology, Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press (P.O. Box 325, Twin Lakes, WI 53181), 1999.
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