Astrologer Interview: Benjamin Dykes (Part 3 of 5)
August 6, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
For those of you just checking in, this is part 3 of 5 of an interview with Dr. Ben Dykes, the noted traditional astrology text translator and astrologer. Read part 1 and part 2 of the interview before continuing here.
NG: [Changes in astrological meanings, terminology, and concepts are easy to miss] especially when you follow a certain thread of a concept from one book to another. And then perhaps to yet another text. Unless you are a professional I can’t imagine that you would pick up on that.
I think over time your translations are going to really change the way that astrology is practiced and also what our understanding of traditional astrology will become. Is that something you were conscious of when you were doing this? What is your very big picture of where you see your translations making an impact?
BD: My big-picture goal is to make sure that more people who are interested in traditional astrology can practice it and read it, and can both appreciate and communicate the riches that are there. I found that for many people who maybe have some modern astrological training, when they’re presented with traditional ideas and rules, rules of interpretation, they get very turned on and they get very excited. I think this excitement has a good chance of spreading amongst astrologers generally.
One thing I would suggest is that modern astrologers have spent a lot of time focusing on their vision of the universe, their vision of the mind, their cosmology. But my feeling is that they are not as good on techniques. There is not as much discipline with regard to techniques, among other things. On the other hand, while traditional astrology is very heavy on techniques, the traditional astrologers are not very strong on communicating their vision of the universe. Now, some do communicate this. Abu Ma’shar communicates this in his Great Introduction. But it often falls to other kinds of writers who are astrology symphathizers to express what this vision of the universe is.
I think there is work we need to do in traditional astrology to articulate its vision, but one thing we can do is show how these techniques will work for modern astrologers.
NG: It sounds like the techniques are what gets people interested, and then hopefully they absorb some of the traditional world view along with it.
BD: Right. Because by and large, the traditional astrological writers only give a few statements here and there about what their vision of the universe is; but once you start practicing the techniques you’re almost forced to sit back and ask yourself: “Well, what kind of world do I live in that makes these techniques work?” It forces you to look at your view of the universe.
NG: Is that something that happened to you as you got involved in traditional astrology? Was there a moment that you had that you thought: “I’m really not in Kansas anymore?”
BD: It was a shift that took place for me when I was studying under Zoller, because Zoller thinks this is very important. I was already undergoing this shift. I was lucky because I was already teaching traditional philosophical materials from Aristotle and the Stoics to college students, and was personally adopting some of the ideas. I was already prepared to undergo this shift, but I still had to go through it. I
n earlier years, when I had tried to study horary and tried to study Lilly, I found that no matter what ancient or traditional material I was teaching or studying in other parts of my life, whenever I approached the chart, I had my modern psychological hat on. I became easily frustrated because I found that the interpretations didn’t seem to be working. And what I didn’t know until I was studying under Zoller, and was able to blend this traditional material with astrology in my mind, was that in order to practice traditional astrology you really need to take a whole different attitude towards the chart. If you can’t adopt this attitude and make this shift and make certain value judgments the chart will never work out for you.
NG: That’s very interesting. I mean on one hand it’s perhaps the most ephemeral part of being an astrologer and practicing traditional techniques. On the other hand, it sounds like it really does underlie everything else that you do in your practice. Do you think it’s one of the biggest things that traditional astrologers face today?
BD: I think it is. And I think one reason is that the traditional attitude forces you to adopt a kind of critical distance from the chart. When you are trying to analyze planetary strengths and weaknesses, what signs they’re in and so on, and especially when you assume that the houses and the planets refer to objective facts—that’s a very different approach from what some modern astrologers do, which is to rely on their intuition or on associations of psychological ideas in their own minds. Because then the astrologer’s psyche and whatever is bumping around in the psyche is going to insert itself into the judgment. The traditional attitude forces us to have a critical distance. That doesn’t mean there aren’t better and worse traditional astrologers. And that doesn’t mean that traditional astrologers don’t talk about the mind, because they do; but they talk about the mind in a different kind of way. This traditional worldview and how it forces you to approach the chart can’t be underestimated, I think.
NG: How do you think we modern people living today can achieve that paradigm shift? Is that something that simply comes from trying to work with the techniques until your mind is made malleable enough?
BD: I think that most modern people have a lot of junk ideas in their minds about the world. We get them from many different places. But I think that, underlying these ideas, modern people have a natural receptivity to traditional ideas; so often it’s just a case of trying to appeal to what’s already there. So for example, when I taught Stoicism to college undergraduates, I would start out by listing a number of things that the Stoics taught. I would list maybe ten things and present it in a way that seemed incredible and absurd. At first Stoicism seemed like an insane philosophy.
But then once we actually got into how the Stoics think the world works and how the psyche works and how emotions work, I was often able to convince students that they already believed the things the Stoics were teaching. But they hadn’t been taught how to pay attention to it. So in some ways we need more formal instruction and that is something that I’m very interested in doing.
The issue of fate and free will often comes up when we talk about modern-versus-traditional attitudes. And it’s definitely relevant. But unfortunately, very few people who actually talk about the topics have done the research and have actually read traditional authors to figure out what exactly is meant by fate and free will. For example, there are many people who consider themselves modern and atheist in thought who will very vocally insist that we have free will.
But the fact is that our notion of the free will was invented by a set of Jewish and Christian theologians, and they had theological and biblical reasons for inventing this notion. So even people who consider themselves modern and not traditional at all, and are maybe disdainful of traditional attitudes, often hold on to ideas that they don’t know the source of. I think we need broad and detailed discussions by people who are studying this, and who have done the research, to reintroduce and reacquaint us to traditional ideas, many of which I’ve said modern people are already receptive to.
One of those ideas is that people’s lives are to a great degree fated (depending on how we define fate), and that the so-called free will is very rare, if it even exists at all. There are good reasons to think it does not exist, and we see ambiguous attitudes toward it in the astrological texts.