Desire and the Stars

by Darby Costello

Night SkyIn the 1970s I was living in Southern Africa and practising astrology in Johannesburg. The people who called to consult me came with their desires and questions, which I attempted to answer through the medium of their astrological charts, as every astrologer has done since the beginning of time. However, again and again I felt another longing beneath the desires they were voicing when they came to consult me. I found myself listening, as if with an inner ear, while I tried to divine exactly what these deeper longings and desires might be. During those years my life in Johannesburg was balanced with equal time in the African bush. Especially when travelling through deserts and other uninhabited places, deep in starry nights, I wondered what was the unspoken desire contained within the question I was so often asked, "What do the stars say?"

During those years of my apprenticeship to astrology I was fortunate to be working with Adrian Boshier at the Museum of Man and Science in Johnanesburg on a project which involved sangomas; the tribal healer-diviners of southern Africa. We travelled all over African recording and transcribing the arts and practices of different tribal ways of healing and divining. During the course of this work I became close to one or two of the female sangomas who taught me a great deal about what it was to be a diviner. They saw me as a diviner too, one who "works with the spirits" as they did, but my spirits were different to theirs. Most of the women I got to know used a method of divination which was known as "throwing the bones". The "bones" were all sorts of small objects - bones, stones, shells, beads, engraved pieces of wood or ivory - which were gathered over a period of time and kept in a special bag. When someone arrived for a divination they were taken out and "thrown" on a mat. The subsequent pattern told the sangoma not only why the seeker had come, what they wanted, but all sorts of details about the inner and outer life of the querent.

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Heaven Obscured

Confusion in the People
Navigating the Tides of Change

This Carter Memorial Lecture was first given to the English Astrological Association's annual conference on the 29th August, 2003 in York, England

Astrologers everywhere are living in a heightened state of awareness this year because Uranus is changing signs. Even more interesting, it is entering into mutual reception with Neptune. We are all looking for clues in history, watching the news, and observing each other and ourselves for signs of the new conditions we might expect. For an astrologer the pleasure of this leads to the work of translating what we discover into every chart we do; bringing the patterns of the outer planets with their sweeping, collective stories right into the heart of personal lives. We are the navigators, reading the winds and tides for those who call on our skill and art.

On the 10th of March this year (2003), Uranus went into Pisces. Along with most other astrologers in the Western world, I had been tuning myself to this event for months before it occurred. This is the picture I have by my desk, to honour this transit. It is Hokusai’s The Great Wave. The book from which I took this picture says that the print was made from the original woodblock in 1836. Uranus was in Pisces. In fact, it was the last mutual reception with Neptune before our own. It’s a beautiful image, and the interesting thing about it is that you can look at it and see an exhilarating and joyous image or you can see a frightening one. You can start out seeing it one way and then turn it into the other. Whichever way you see it has more to do with how you see, than the image itself. But you can go farther with it too: how would feel if you were in one of those boats? Would it be frightening? Ecstatic? Will the people in the boats survive the ride through the wave? Probably, but there’s always a risk in wild water.

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