Sunday, 25 September 2011

And we want to be taken seriously?

When I first came to England in 1990 and recovered from the shock of discovering there were only 4 TV channels to choose from, I caught a lot of morning shows. I can clearly remember seeing Russell Grant and being really excited because he was the first celebrity astrologer who seemed to agree with me and my theory that people need to be pushed to get them to see beyond star signs. There Russell was, on live TV, considering a whole chart (be it only for few minutes) and being contagiously enthusiastic about it. I remember thinking: “Hey, he’s speaking the language!” It was my first experience of feeling I could engage with someone about astrology.

Of course, life being as it is, my path to astrological enlightenment (which I still haven’t found and proudly accept I never will), has taken many twists and turns but I still resolutely refuse to do a star sign column—even if I did get the chance to do whole chart readings in front of a live studio audience. It isn’t because star sign columns–written by qualified astrologers—are fake or incorrect. But in the whole entire scheme of things they are pretty useless and they cast astrologers as a whole in a very simplified light. Star sign columns make all astrologers easy targets for the likes of Matthew Syeed. Anyone who knows their star sign (and that’s everybody), thinks they automatically understand astrology and can have an opinion about it.

Before my many friends who write star sign columns start telling me (again) they are the “shop window” of astrology, let me put a few more reasons why we clever astrologers should seriously consider how a few badly dressed mannequins affect the rest of us. I'm not having a go because you star sign astrologers do work hard and I'm lucky I have a job I love which pays me well enough so I don't have to be a slave to the media. I just want you guys to consider a few things.

My buddy Deb Houlding has been engaged in an epic battle with the BBC to get them to back track on some seriously negative comments from a so-called expert astronomer. The sheer lunacy of the Beebs’ inability to follow their own policy on impartiality is appalling.
As Deb has written in her website Skyscript (and if you think astrology is simple, just have a look at her work):

“My complaint is essentially simple and concerns a lack of factual accuracy and impartiality within offensively misrepresentative remarks about astrology. It is raised against a dialogue between BBC presenters Dara Ó Briain and Professor Brian Cox on Stargazing Live (3rd January 2011) in reference to the "very rare" planetary line up between Jupiter and Uranus and the Earth that occurred that night (in other words, the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction, which as astrologers know is not "very rare" in astronomical terms, since it repeats every 13-15 years):”

Dara Ó Briain: Very rare for this kind of thing to happen, it is, because all of them have a different, different orbital length; this is, you know, only, only the Earth goes round in one year and comes back to the same spot. Horoscopes: that's all nonsense. We're happy to say this now, once and for all, that's all rubbish, right, astrology - because the planets are in different places at different times.

Brian Cox: In the interests of balance, because we're on the BBC, I should say that, indeed, Dara is right: astrology is … [gesticulates to support the last word given to Dara].

Dara Ó Briain: It's nonsense, it's absolute nonsense; right.

Oh so Brian Cox and Dara O’Brian are qualified astrologers and can have this opinion? And the BBC reckons it maintains a position of impartiality? Give me my damn license money back. Now.

Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more touchy about the reputation of astrology, in flounces Russell Grant—on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. He’s lost ten stone and he’s recycled Anne Widdecombe’s wardrobe.

Is he going to win it?

With T Pluto square his N Saturn, he’ll be lucky he doesn’t break something. And T Saturn conjunct N Neptune? Come on Russell, you didn’t see the foot infection coming?

A word of advice from one astrologer to another: watch that Uranus transit on your descendent. It could turn your whole life upside down. Ring my special premium telephone number at £3.00 per minute to find out more.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


My head teacher gave us all a copy of Matthew Syed’s book “Bounce” to read over the summer holiday. “Bounce” had been on my reading list for awhile and in between furious attempts to re-decorate my kitchen, prepare for the final FAS (Faculty of Astrological Studies) exam, resurrect my blog and feverishly write my own book as well as add to the articles on my website, I read the book.

Matthew Syed is a world class ping-pong champion who attributed his phenomenal success to phenomenal amounts of practice. Well I was impressed! And I was also greatly boosted by his assertions that “talent” is not an inherited trait but an attribute gained through hard work. As a musician, who put in thousands of hours of practice, striving to learn the complicated techniques it takes to play the trumpet, it always wound me up when my mother insisted I “got musical talent” from my grandmother who played the piano (I never heard her). Being “talented” put me under enormous pressure to prove I was talented and fearful of taking risks to prove I wasn’t talented, asserted Syed. It’s a good job my Mercury is in Leo or I might have given up, thought me.

But I digress. . .

Having read Syed’s book thoroughly and having made good notes, I was quite inspired by some of his theories and I was very much looking forward to hearing his motivational talk scheduled for our first inset day when we teachers returned to school following summer holidays.

Syed talked a lot about what was already in his book but I still listened to him, occasionally letting my mind wander back to the FAS exam I was working on. I was thinking about what a long road it was to get to where I was astrologically; how many seminars and conferences (such as the Astrological Association’s conference and the United Astrology Conference) and classes as well as lots and lots of practice. How the FAS’ insistence of perseverance and practice and perfection was expensive but, as I’m struggling in the final throes, I couldn’t argue that it wasn’t thorough or that it wasn’t worth the effort. By working hard, not through coincidence or talent, I had made a lot of ground. I’m chuffed to bits that some of my research is going to be featured on “The Astrology Show” and that my stats counter has gone through the roof for both my blog and my website (yes, I can see you!).

So just as I was thinking all this, Matthew Syed suddenly threw in astrology. Of course my ears pricked up because being an astrologer is very much like walking around with a sign that says “kick me” taped to my butt. I’m pretty used to the kicks but I’ve also developed numerous ways lessening their impact or avoiding them completely. Syed was just about to go down the road of wondering why astrologers persisted in their interests in the light of failure in Empirical Testing. But it was equally clear he was making brash, sweeping comments based on his experience of reading the results of Empirical Testing and the daily horoscopes he reads (or doesn’t) in the newspapers, not his own experience or practice. In other words, he was being a big, fat hypocrite—which really got my goat. Now, in reflection, I think I’m careful about my reputation as an astrologer and protective about the subject of astrology. I don’t go around trying to convert people to astrology or babbling endlessly about it (unless someone expresses clear interest and I reckon that makes them fair game) but I also suddenly realised that I had clocked up 30 years of experience and practice in astrology. Compared to him as a ping pong player, I was Michael Stich (you’ll have to read the book to appreciate this). I invested a lot of money, not in the search for PROOF of my CRAFT but to be able to create works of art I am proud of. I know my craft exists because the labours of my love have appeared in magazines across the world and are collated on my website. I don’t need numbers to tell me my art exists. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to allow his feeble judgments to make me look like an idiot in front of my colleagues—who had all turned around to see how I was going to react (remember my Mercury is in Leo).

There was a split second when I thought “Don’t rise to it, Alex. Just shut your big mouth.” But with everyone looking at me, I felt there was no way I could take this one on the chin.

So I let him have it.

I pointed out that newspaper columns don’t represent me as an astrologer and I let him—and my colleagues—know that Matthew Syed didn’t know what he was talking about when it came to astrology (there was an audible gasp from my colleagues) and that I had practiced way more than him. I also provided him with PROOF that I had read his book by telling him that advanced astrologers lose the ability to guess star signs—in a very similar way to world class athletes lose the ability to slow down and explain how they do what they do. I think I may have mentioned the fact that as a non ping pong player I wouldn't dare proclaim that ping pong wasn't a sport let a alone a sport for men.

Alex Trenoweth, astrologer: 1
Non-astrologer who thinks he can run his mouth about astrology: 0

I think it’s safe to say Matthew Syed felt the power of that serve whoosh right past his ear before his ping pong brain registered it was coming. He did the sensible thing and mumbled an apology and admitted that perhaps he should study the subject more before he opens his trap again. Which really was gracious of him. And when his lecture was over, he cut out of the building like a bat out of hell. I didn’t even get his autograph.

Out of curiosity, I thought I’d have a look at his chart. I don’t have his birth time so I can only use a noon chart: 2 November 1970, Reading. As Matthew Syed KNOWS astrology fails under empirical testing, I’m going to guess he won’t mind me applying my faulty and misguided years of practice to a quick art sketch of his chart.

And it’s pretty interesting stuff. There is a massive opposition between planets in Scorpio and his lone wolf Saturn in Taurus. His chart looks like a ping pong match. It’s a life time spent batting things back and forth with great intensity, focus and sheer brute strength. His Mars in Libra, a sign not know for its love of hard work, is conjunct Uranus. It’s a lifetime of refusing to party for want of proving to everyone he’s not really lazy. The conjunction is also opposite Chiron in Aries so this need to prove himself would have cost a lot of pain—people like me continually challenge his perception of self by serving aces to his weak points are all too willing to point this out. Just as I was about to feel sorry for him, I also noticed the noon chart shows the Moon at 17 Sagittarius: no matter what time of day he was born, he would still have the Moon in Sagittarius. It’s like he bounds into other people’s territory, takes a shit but doesn’t take the responsibility to clean up after himself.

I’m going to lay off of Matthew Syed now. If he wants to provide me with his time of birth, I would be honoured to read his chart properly and far more sensitively. I’d even do it for free by way of saying that I thought it took a pretty big man to back down and admit he should stick to things he knows. I admire that and I can admit that I too learned a few things from this.

I wish the BBC could be so congenial. They too can have a free work of art if they say they’re sorry for running their mouths about something they don’t know about and charging me license money to have to listen.