Astrologer Interview: Benjamin Dykes (Part 4 of 5)
August 13, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
This is Part 4 of Gryphon Astrology’s interview with astrologer and translator Benjamin Dykes. To catch up on prior parts of the interview, read Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3 here. In Part 4, Benjamin discusses traditional thought and its application to astrology.
NG: It seems like in some ways it’s almost not possible for us to get away from traditional thought. We can maybe layer it over or twist it but you can never really get away from certain concepts entirely.
BD: Yes. Traditional thinkers worked for a couple of thousand years on a set of themes and questions that were of interest to people in many different times and many different places. And in order to get these conversations going we need to know what they said. There are a lot of fantasies that modern people have about themselves and about what it means to be modern. And traditional thought can sometimes be a corrective that can help dispel these fantasies.
NG: I think conveying that traditional knowledge back into a modern person’s language might be a challenge. Have you experienced that? Or do you feel, as you said, that people just kind of naturally are open to what you’re saying?
BD: It depends. I have met both clients and people in social settings who are modern astrologers, and even if they don’t take on clients themselves, they’re modern people who have mainly studied modern astrology and understand its ethical, cosmological, and social claims. And when I can look at their chart and speak frankly about both good and bad things that are going on in their lives it comes often as a breath of fresh air. They are appreciative. There is a belief out there, and part of it is because of modern fantasies, that you can’t ever say anything bad to the client, because the client is so fragile and probably has so many traumas and so many potential mental illnesses that are just waiting to be unearthed, that you might scar them forever—so someone comes to you for advice but you are not supposed to recognize conventionally bad things in their lives. But clients, even those studying modern astrology, often know the bad things that are present or on the horizon, and they themselves consider it bad, and they are pleased when you acknowledge that. That is one of the things I mean about modern people being receptive to traditional thought: because in traditional thought we can say something is conventionally good or bad.
NG: Perhaps that is why for many people that’s a relief when they start studying traditional techniques that hey, you are allowed to acknowledge the whole of the life or the whole of the person rather than just start working with these fantasies about everything about being good or beneficial.
BD: Or even indulging in fantasies, as I said, about most people having mental illnesses and neuroses and having all sorts of traumas that you have to tiptoe around.
NG: I suppose people are slightly hardier than modern thought would allow them to be. What do you think the current revival of traditional astrology, where do you think that fits on the astrological timeline? At first, we have traditional thought, then for a few hundred years it really goes into dormancy, and now we’re experiencing this revival. Why do you think that is happening now? And where do you think it might go from here kind of on a very large timeline? What do you think it means?
BD: I think several things are happening. First, there are issues of modern culture in general, having to do with people not really being sure what value system they hold, or who are even afraid to say what is good or bad. And I think this leads to people feeling adrift and alienated: so they might naturally turn to traditional thought. And then in various New Age, occult, magical, or astrological circles there are trends back to traditional practices. I’ve met a lot of modern astrologers who say that after studying and practicing for a long time, they’re exhausted with modern astrology. And I think it is partly because astrologers are experiencing some of the same problems that are in the culture in general. There’s always a new technique, always a new vision of the universe, but very little agreement on how to even read a chart.
And so what traditional thought does, I think, is to help ground us. You don’t have to believe everything that medieval people did in order to feel a lot more grounded and confident in talking about stuff in ways that they do. You don’t have to stop being a modern person. But a traditional dialogue on matters of good and bad, or of fate and freedom, helps to articulate issues and values in ways that modern people often have not been prepared for, because we have modern myths that blind us to alternatives. In one sense modern conservatives are right about how an extreme multiculturalism and de facto moral and intellectual relativism has bad effects on people. But you don’t have to be a judgmental jerk in order to cure yourself of that. Traditional thought often has a very realistic, down to earth way of dealing with these issues.
NG: I think one of the things that people find perhaps confusing with modern astrology is they find issues of morality or things not being right or wrong. In that sense, the traditional astrologers can be very refreshing. They say this person is going to be on the evil side and they don’t have to tell you what exactly evil means because we all understand some of these basic concepts.
BD: And it’s not only more refreshing but it’s more helpful. For example, a modern astrologer recently wrote that we should not give bad news to a client if we see something terrible in the chart about the native’s relationships. Now you wouldn’t even treat your best friend that way, leaving them in the dark about something important like that. But there is a certain strand in some modern astrology that says we just can’t talk about that stuff. Someone comes to us for help and we just can’t talk realistically about it.
The issue of good and bad is also interesting because there are a couple of ways that we can look at matters. In traditional astrology, when you look at the houses, the houses are filled with things that are conventionally good and bad, and I think that’s the key. They’re conventionally good and bad: wealth is good, God is good, death is bad, slavery is bad, friends are good. These are conventional values and they are the ones embraced by a philosophers like Aristotle and most of the astrologers in the tradition. The chart, in essence, presents conventional, Aristotelian values.
But there are other ways of looking at things, and this is where you can adopt different philosophical views and adopt a different cosmology. You can say that from God’s perspective, none of this is good or bad. The planets are doing nothing more than carrying out their natures as God has willed their natures to be. Mars, from a God perspective, is not evil. Mars does what he does. But what he does may be conventionally bad for us.
You could take this further in a Stoic direction, a philosophy which is implied but not often articulated well in many Hellenistic texts. This could be useful in astrological therapy. The Stoics disagreed completely with how Aristotle grouped values together. And their whole attitude towards philosophical therapy and healing emotional problems had to do with realizing that what we conventionally recognize as good and evil are not good and evil in themselves; they’re things we should select or deselect in accordance with our natures and what the situation requires. But getting too wrapped up in conventional values sets you up for either misery or false happiness.
So when we’re talking about good and evil with a client, we can talk about conventional good and evils, but we can also talk about—and I think in the future we need to start doing this—something more of a Stoic approach, in which we realize that we are part of a universe in which everything acts according to its nature. And if we can get a bit of critical distance from these conventional values we’ll be a lot more happy and relieved and confident about what we get or do not get, than if we only think our happiness has to do with having these conventional values, and either get scared out of our wits when we lack them or have a false sense of joy when we have them.
You asked about where are we going in the future. I don’t know about the reception of traditional astrology among astrologers generally. But I am confident that within the next five years we will have all of the major and most of the minor works of these key medieval astrologers translated. And we will have resolved issues like whole-sign houses versus quadrant houses, and other matters. I think we’ll have resolved all the main issues and have all the material there. The next step will be to train a new generation of traditional astrologers to work with it.
[Read part 5 of the interview with Ben Dykes.]