Foreword by Steven Forrest

The Original Forward to the Book Version
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Michael Erlewine
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Foreword by Steven Forrest

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[Editor's Note: In the original book, there is a wonderful forward by astrologer Steven Forrest. It is reproduced here.]

Foreword by Steven Forrest

Astro-shamanism. What could such a term possibly signify? Shamans shake rattles, wear scary masks, and go on psychedelic journeys into the Underworld. Astrologers sit safely in front of their computers under bright electric lights. The world that astrologers inhabit is essentially rational; it operates according to laws that can be studied and learned. The shaman’s world is trans-rational, daemonic, magical. The shaman improvises in the face of chaos.

So what is Michael Erlewine doing here? How can he claim to build a bridge between these two worlds? Read on. You’ll find out. He pulls it off. He rocks the paradigms. This book will mess with you.

Shamans heal souls. In our modern western world, we often expect the same of psychotherapists. That makes sense. “Psyche” is based on the ancient Greek word for soul, and “therapy” derives from the Greek word for healing. So it would follow that psychotherapists are soul-healers. And some of them truly are. Ditto really for some astrologers. But, to me, the crowning irony is that so many psychotherapists are steeped in the bio-chemical and mechanistic paradigms that dominate the modern world. They don’t actively believe in souls at all. It is a bit like imagining podiatrists who didn’t believe in feet! And even among modern astrologers, we often see something very similar: an absence of any sense of a coherent metaphysical heritage. Many are, functionally, existentialists. They describe our personalities and our “fates,” and that’s that. There is no framework of larger meaning or purpose.

To become a psychotherapist, one needs rigorous academic training. You have to pass a lot of tests. In astrology nowadays, it’s still more of a professional free-for-all. Basically, anyone can print up some business cards and claim to be an astrologer. Many do. But the reality is that the intellectual rigor involved in becoming a psychotherapist is reflected pretty evenly in the mental effort it takes to become an astrologer—at least one who is respected by his or her peers. Among serious astrologers, there is a real affinity for complex, academic knowledge. Despite the popular image of an astrologer as a ditz or a flake, if you spend a day at an astrology conference you’ll probably be intimidated by the brain-power you encounter there. The characters in the modern astrological world, in other words, seem to be drawn from the same zoological park that populates academia in general. There are some truly fine, deep, soulful people in the field, but one also encounters the same, familiar menagerie of educated fools, brains-on-legs, and psychopaths with PhDs.

It is tempting simply to say that it is ever thus—that in the modern world, every profession with the slightest pretension of academic rigor will breed these kinds of one-dimensional human beings. But why? As astrologers we purport to do something much like shamans do: to go down into the dark with our clients and help them re-assemble themselves. To heal. To recover their souls from the Underworld. This is not an abstract, intellectual process. You’ve got to get your body in it, and your heart too. You cannot do it “academically.” Most of all, you have to have been there yourself, down in that deep dark place. You have to have done that work. And the stakes are enormously high—a human being in a vulnerable state has put his or her soul in your hands.

How can we claim to be training astrologers effectively when a typical astrology class, conference or book doesn’t even mention the need for an astrologer to have inward, spiritual preparation? We are stuck in exactly the same blind spot that has crippled modern psychology: we are imagining that purely intellectual training alone will do the trick. It won’t. You can’t make a soul-healer that way. That’s only part of the recipe. Just because we understand the physics of sound propagation, musical theory, and the evolution of the keyboard since 1492 doesn’t mean we can actually play the piano!

In Astrology of the Heart, you get to know Michael Erlewine personally. His intellect, as you will discover, is fierce. He very obviously has no fear of burning the midnight oil with his nose in a book. This is rigorous work. But you also quickly comprehend that Michael has made considerable inner effort outside the narrow envelope of the academic paradigm. By the end of the book you realize that his home-base is Tibetan Buddhism, but before then he deftly demonstrates that he’s ridden more soul-horses than that one: his language is sometimes mystical Christian, sometimes Rosicrucian, and of course quite often purely shamanic.

As Castaneda’s don Juan would put it, he “moves fluidly between the worlds.” But not just between the mental, intellectual constructs of those worlds. Michael, like a Druid’s apprentice or a Buddhist monk, has submitted to the spiritual direction of men and women he was humble enough to realize were wiser than himself. He has received initiations. He has gone down into the Dark, into the Great Silence, into the Luminous Void. He has, in other words, done something not enough astrologers do: mind-training. He has visited the worlds to which the astrological symbols refer. He speaks of them not with the authority of erudite footnotes, but with the authority of direct experience. The Zen Buddhists refer to philosophy and cognitive spiritual constructs as “a finger pointing at the moon.” In the implicit joke, the student stares mesmerized by the finger, and never notices the moon at all. Michael Erlewine, however, has actually been to that moon, and he points out the way there to the rest of us.

This, to me, is the main message of Astrology of the Heart: that we must leaven the bread of dry astrological theory with the yeast of inner work. Meditation. Shamanic trance. Direct, trans-rational engagement with the planets. Experience, not just theory.

Is Michael simply saying that, along with our conventional astrological studies, we should all also practice meditation? Actually, he is saying a lot more than that. His message is integrative. It is not just about tagging meditation onto existing astrological disciplines. He demonstrates quite effectively that astrology provides a map of the inner worlds. The places we encounter directly when we enter into contemplative states are astrological, quite literally. He takes us on an ascending journey through the planets, mapping out the particular challenges, illusions and opportunities that exist at each level. It is very concrete and methodical, and he never asks you simply to “believe in it.” You can verify it yourself.

One gets the impression of Michael having had quite a lot of personal experience at each of these planetary levels. In fact, with his personal cards on the table, he shares a fair amount of that biographical material. Undoubtedly sometimes his personal experience was so strong and unique that it left impressions in him that might not generalize so well to other people. No astrologer—or shaman—could ever fully avoid that pitfall. Your mileage may vary, in other words. Still, there is a feeling of something universal and objective here. Reading, I get the same feeling I get when I encounter weirdly parallel descriptions of “alternate realities” by shamans from cultures as far apart as Amazonia, Native America, Africa, Celtic Europe, and Siberia. It’s clear they’ve all been to the same place, even though they use different metaphors to describe it. In the same tradition, Michael has linked astrology, shamanism, and Vajrayana Buddhism into a unified field, and shared the map of this same primordial territory with the rest of us. And he invites us to experience it for ourselves, to check his facts against the authority of our own experience.

Shamans are Tricksters. They have what the Native people of North America might call “coyote” energy. Cunningly, they trap us in situations where, in order to survive, we have to release some cherished illusion. Michael “got” me this way. As I read his book, I often found myself arguing with him in my head—getting caught up in my attachment to my own ideas, in other words. Technically, his astrology is very different from mine. He is, for one glaring example, inclined toward the heliocentric perspective, whereas I am purely geocentric. In this book, Michael’s heliocentricity manifests primarily in his use of Earth as a planet. That really confuses me. In my cosmology, Earth has a tragic flaw as a planet: it isn’t up there in the sky! It can’t be in a sign or a house, or make any aspects. How can we use it? Michael does, effectively.

He messed with me in another tricky way too. The thrust of Astrology of the Heart is a kind of shamanic journey inward through the planets, culminating in our fusion with the almighty Light of the Sun. In that journey, Michael includes a magnificent enthronement of often-underestimated Mercury. With typical eloquence, he writes, “The Sanskrit word for Mercury is “Buddha,” awareness . . . Mercury is the light of love, the divine light of eternal truth, the eternal corona and radiance of the Sun center itself . . . Mercury is the light of the mind, the light we see shining in each other’s eyes.”

This is beautiful stuff.

Trouble is, when I am teaching my own students I take precisely the opposite road! I start with what I see as the natural egocentricity of the Sun, work outward through mere mind (Mercury), human love (Venus) . . . and eventually leap through Neptune’s mystical stained-glass window out into the terrifying shamanic passage we call Pluto. I proceed from there into the wild archetypal reaches of the Kuiper Belt, and finally into true cosmic consciousness symbolized by the vastness of interstellar space.


Just the same as Michael . . .only backwards.

I could have argued with him, or even gotten my knickers in a knot over who is right and who is wrong. That temptation lasted about a tenth of a second, then I was laughing at myself. The Trickster had struck; Michael had “coyote-ed” me, tricking me into seeing how easily I can get caught up in my own narrow mental constructs. And as I felt the rightness of what he teaches here and simultaneously the rightness of my own contradictory model, a window opened up inside me. I heard the sound of one hand clapping. I knew God could make two mountains without an intervening valley.

The spiritual richness of that immersion in paradox dwarfs any technical astrological insight. It is the inner work upon which astrology rests. What astrologer, lacking a tolerance for paradox, could conceivably honor the diversity of the clients he or she will counsel? Their reality is not the same as his or hers. This compassionate, humble spaciousness, this willingness to pass beyond the narrow straits of “rightness,” is a ground teaching implicit in Michael’s astro-shamanism.

The modern astrological world desperately needs that openness. Over the past couple of decades something strange and unprecedented has been happening in the community of astrologers. Just as our larger social world has moved toward multi-culturalism, so has the world of astrology. Psychological astrology claimed center stage, briefly. But we now have a renaissance in Vedic astrology, which uses an entirely different Zodiac than the western traditions. And Vedic astrology has spawned a Neo-Vedic movement, with some philosophical sympathy for more western notions of free will. We have Uranian astrology, with its strange world of non-material, mathematical “planets.” And Cosmobiology, Harmonic Astrology, asteroids, and an astrology based on the host of new planet-like objects out beyond Pluto. Then along came Project Hindsight and the resurrection of Hellenistic astrology. Adding to the confusion of riches, there is also a huge interest in the very distinct traditions of neo-Platonic and Renaissance astrology. I myself have become identified with Evolutionary Astrology, which essentially merges ancient reincarnation-based metaphysics with the values of modern psychology.

The frightening point is that these traditions are becoming mutually incomprehensible. I can’t, for example, argue with Vedic or Hellenistic astrologers, or even speak very intelligently with them: I simply don’t understand what they are saying. I don’t speak their language and they don’t speak mine. Modern astrology has become the Tower of Babel.

I celebrate the diversity, in principle—but I am also spooked about the future coherence of the astrological community and the loss of its beneficial interdependency and dialogue. We may simply be losing the common ground of a shared language. History teaches us that such a loss typically spells the death of a culture.

This brings me back to Michael the Trickster. He pulled me out of my narrow view, and re-connected me with that deeper ground of Being where paradox sits comfortably in the heart of the Mind.. He brought me back, like a shaman, with a renewed sense of that solid foundation upon which all astrologies rest. If the astrological community is going to have a vibrant civil future, it will be because beneath the diversity of our theoretical approaches we sense and celebrate this underlying unity of vision and experience. If we are living only up in our heads, in our cognitive intellects, we will never get there. They create divisions, not unity.

We can only experience this shared ground directly, through inner work. The nets of pure intellect are not fine enough to catch it. This is the sweet fruit of mind work—the direct experience of consciousness itself.

It is the path Michael Erlewine has walked all his life, and it is the path he invites us to consider in this fine and timely volume.

I find myself filled with gratitude toward Michael, and also with a sense of encouragement. As synchronicity would have it, he has invited me, an Evolutionary Astrologer very different from himself, to write this Foreword. And the book will be published by Robert Schmidt and Project Hindsight, known for their scholarly breakthrough work in restoring Hellenistic astrology for modern practitioners—again, a totally different philosophical vector.

Walking his talk, Michael has placed a stepping stone between two very different worlds. He stands on that middle stone, with white water roaring all around him. And his finger is pointing at the moon.

Steven Forrest Summer Solstice, 2007 Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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