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Interview with Patrice Guinard
by Angeles Rocamora Cortés
-- translation E. P. --
Note P.G.: This is a translation of the original text of an interview conducted in February 2002 and published the 3rd trimester 2002 in the Barcelonan magazine Mercurio-3 (number 37).
A.R. : When and how did you get interested in astrology?
P.G. : Late, and by chance. In December 1977 (I was 20 years old), I was invited by friends for a week-end "in the countryside" in the land of Van Gogh, close to Auvers-sur-Oise. We had a lot of passionate discussions: politics, metaphysics, society, freedom, ecology... We were drinking and smoking (tobacco and grass). In this agitated atmosphere and in this state of "increased consciousness" as Castaneda said, I discovered astrology. I knew nothing about astrology, not even my solar sign I think. A young woman "initiated" me by reading the zodiacal portraits from a small fashionable guide. Comparatively, I had to admit more pronounced resemblance between the representation I had of myself and the portrait of my solar sign, than with any other solar sign. Then I read the planetary descriptions, while she was preparing my birth chart. There again, the two or three planets which seemed closer to my aspirations than the others, were located in the angles, after she drew her strange sketch. I was suddenly conquered by astrology as well as by the girl [laugh]. After this shock I read in a few months time the main astrology works available in French bookshops (Santagostini, Verney, Rudhyar, Barbault, Gauquelin, Halbronn, Nicola, Vouga, etc, but also Manilius, Selva and a few others), and in July 1980 I wrote my first astrology paper for the journal Cahiers Conditionalistes.
A.R. : What made you think of taking on a PhD thesis about astrology?
P.G. : In 1981 I had already written my Master's thesis on astrology, without really referring to it explicitly : it was entitled "Mémoire et Extinction dans les Essais", it was a literary analysis and a philosophical commentary of the ideas and the style developed by Montaigne in his Essais, looked at under the angle of Pisces, his solar sign. In 1983, after coming back from cooperation work in South America, where I had the same function as the novelist Jean-Marie Le Clézio 20 years earlier, I registered at the Sorbonne to prepare my D.E.A. I had a hard time finding an agreement about the subject to be treated with Jacques Bouveresse, who was then connected with the Collège de France: I wanted to work on the origins of the metaphysical discourse, on the initial conceptualisations put in place at a moment when a new episteme appears in philosophical activity, leading philosophers to invent new conceptual arrangements, for example with the Greek Pre-Socratics or with Descartes. This project was found too wide. After long discussions, I started wondering : why should I not work on a subject whom I took to heart even though it was not very orthodox in French universities: astrology? This is how in June 1984 I presented my thesis on "Le Temps cyclique astral", almost completely taken up again in my thesis of 1993.
A.R. : Which difficulties did you encounter in the academic environment while working on your thesis ?
P.G. : A philosophical thesis dedicated to astrology was unheard of, even unthinkable, in western universities, especially French ones, which had a 'Cartesian' reputation. The true aim of my work, which I partly achieved, was to lift up the astrological debate to the level of philosophical issues, so that philosophers could possibly refer to it. I spent almost as much energy looking for qualified teachers in this field, as for my thesis work. It is a joke of course, but it gives a good idea of the situation. My first thesis proposal, submitted at the Bordeaux university in 1984, was dealing with the same issue as my DEA and was titled "L'Etre et le Temps dans l'Astrologie (Fondements logiques et sémiologiques de l'astrologie contemporaine)" ("Being and Time in Astrology. Logical and Semiological Grounds of Contemporary Astrology"). I did not agree with the director of my thesis on the orientation to give to my research, and I blew up the bridge: it was my thesis, and my ideas, not those of another person or of an institution. After the Bordeaux episode (see the prologue to my Manifesto), I was left alone, and went on working on this thesis outside the academic circuit. It was only in 1990 that my thesis, of which 2/3 was drafted by then, was approved by a Sorbonne professor, and I would like to thank Antoine Faivre for this (who was then director at the fifth section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études, and had been appointed to the only professorship in France dedicated to the study of esoteric and mystical movements), and whose decisive help, at four occasions to be precise, allowed me to bring my project to an end.
A.R. : What were the consequences, both personally and professionally, of dedicating your DEA and your PhD thesis to astrology ? Is it not important for you to be recognized at the same time as a philosopher and an astrologer? Did being an astrologer create a handicap for your profession and your academic recognition?
P.G. : I have no career ambitions ; if I had, I would only have worked on other people's thinking, ideas, after some rearrangement, as in most university theses. If an academic position was proposed to me, as some people seem to be wishing, I think I would react as Spinoza did. One should never forget that university has always been at the trailer of innovations, and that, in the past, few philosophers occupied university positions, which are nowadays overly grudged. One knows the philosophical path and the life of the four main French thinkers of the last centuries, being Montaigne, Descartes, Rousseau and Maine de Biran: they were all external to universities. I absolutely don't think of myself as a victim of the scientist, anti-astrological ideology, because in the end I managed to find a balance and a freedom that academic constraints could not provide me. Moreover, since the opening of CURA, I maintain friendly relationships with a number of university thinkers from various continents, which are feeling somewhat constrained in their academic shackles. As far as astrologers are concerned, although they are marginalized and despised in the intellectual environment, they generally reproduce at their level the exclusion mechanisms that they are subject to, through their clubs, associations and groupings, which is a dangerous threat for young astrologers.
A.R. : How do you think of yourself ? As an astrologer or a philosopher?
P.G. : Both, equally. Everything fell into place at the beginning of the 80s. At that time I was reading more philosophers and poets than astrologers, whose literature is generally very poor. In my mental organisation there were two poles of equal intensity between which I was unable to decide, with all the following representation conflicts : on one side the thinking of Nietzsche, which was truly the top of western thinking (and in my opinion the 20th Century showed us that this top has not been surpassed), and astrology on the other hand. Suddenly, at a crucial moment of the arrangement of my brain connections [laughing], the Nietzschean pole collapsed: I experienced my 'downfall of Nietzsche' and the 'birth of my philosophy'.
A.R. : How does your thesis differ from other theses on astrology ?
P.G. : The theses that I read (see my listing on the CURA website: http://cura.free.fr/01authd.html) are subdued to a methodology which is external to astrology, coming from various disciplines : history, psycho-statistics, psychotherapy, sociology, theology, medical science, dentistry... In my works I attempted to define the concepts appertaining to the astrological world, and which could potentially legitimise its approach by intellectual means, as well as reform a corpus which is viable thanks to its coherence and also by its confrontation with the requirements of modern reason. An important ambiguity is remaining in this work: the concepts (matrix, matricial reason, impressional, quadriversity...) seem to justify most astrological practices, but on the other hand they are subject to a radical criticism through the argumentation which justifies the establishment of a reasoned, carefully examined astrological model. Although modern reason can certainly be criticized for its most restricted aspects, it nevertheless implies some requirements at the level of the discourse and mental representations, as well as at the level of physical reality, -- the astrologer must take this credibility into account in order to avoid falling back into a social autism fed by small astrological corporations. My thesis attempted to build this bridge.
A.R. : Should astrology be part of university courses ?
P.G. : Historical research courses have recently been put in place in Britain at the London Warburg Institute and in the universities of Southampton, Bath, and Kent, thanks to a one million Sterling Pound gift for research made by a rich British donor. One also knows the recent accreditation of the Seattle Kepler College in the USA. Astrology, a universal cultural phenomenon, was present in most scholarship branches in Europe until the 17th Century. Historical studies will not be able to deny astrology in the coming decennia, and we will most likely see the funding of chairs of history of ancient astrology. As to whether astrology can claim a course of its known, like psychotherapy, that will depend on the mentality evolution in universities and on the capability of astrologers to adapt.
A.R. : In your opinion, which is the worst enemy of astrology ?
P.G. : The scientists are the declared enemies of astrology, but do much less harm than the astrologers who make business out of it. In its present state astrology should be priesthood, not a business. (Please refer to a text which I entirely devoted to this question on the CURA website: http://cura.free.fr/16cura.html).
A.R. : Which education should an astrologer have in your opinion ?
P.G. : The counselling astrologer is a practitioner. He does not use astrology, but applied astrology. What is the use of counselling somebody else, when one only possesses a slightly superior competency to one's "clients'"? As in the metaphor of the blind man who wants to guide the paralytic, it is at the same time an illusion and a swindle. The prestigious astrologers of the past were scholars. There is no astrology without this research of knowledge through astrology, however chimerical it may appear in our hyper-specialised society. An astrologer must first confront the requirements of modern thinking, and accomplish an entitlement in this frame, whatever discipline he chooses. Subsequently or at the same time he must study history of astrological models, philosophy and epistemology, astronomy, and finally psychology. These four disciplines are the pillars of his knowledge. He must make sure to reach this level as good as he can.
A.R. : In your thesis you claim that the knowledge of astrology has survived time, changes, cultural transformations, and all sorts of attacks. On the other hand, you develop a strong criticism of astrologers' practices. Astrologers also survived although they are nowadays outlawed and seen as crazy. What should be the attitude of astrologers in order to evolve in the future?
P.G. : Astrology survived its detractors, unlike multiple practices, religions and ideologies which fell into abeyance, because it conceals a part of truth about the nature of man and the world. Modern ideology will not be able to refuse this statement for a much longer time. Sociological analyses related to astrology are only meant to deceive, but since they are intellectually as poor as most astrological discourses, they will very soon completely be forgotten. An astrologer should not have to take a position: he must work, perfect his arms and his tool, so as to be capable of standing up to hostility.
A.R. : A large majority of astrologers, mainly of traditionalist trend, think that astrology cannot be separated from prediction. Why are you so radically opposed to prediction?
P.G. : One only predicts events, and astrology relates to psychic matters, to the inner world. This tendency to prediction has always been astrology's Achilles' heel, and it will remain so until it is liberated from it. With prediction, one enters an empirical world, foreign to the nature of astrology, and sceptics of all tendencies will always play the game of denouncing it. There exists no corpus of predictions that were verified and justified by a controllable astrological method, neither in the past nor today. Astrologers of the past needed to persuade the various patrons who maintained them financially, of the predictive possibilities of astrology. The latter has been drawn into that fool's game for centuries, and today's makers who are taking over this "tradition" are not far away from swindle. I do not believe that astrologers of the past, among the most competent ones, were persuaded of the efficiency of astrological prediction. Take for instance Johannes Stoeffler. For that matter there is a strange paradox on this subject: on the one hand the existence of numerous astrological techniques subjected to prediction, some of which were precisely invented at some point in time for that purpose; on the other hand the omni-present statement in treaties of the past of the dogma of free will, that is of the entire freedom of human judgment. "The wise dominates the stars".. That is a political adaptation of the astrological discourse to ideological and theological demands. I am at the opposite end of these views: astrologically speaking prediction is impossible, and philosophically free will is impossible. See Descartes, Spinoza and so on... and Paracelse! Let's nevertheless assume that an intuitive mind endowed with talents of a completely different nature than what astrology could provide him, that this mind decides to take on prediction, and that he is able to distinguish the extra-astrological factors in the prospected event, he should then respect a golden rule in use with ancient Indian astrologer: that is to give up his pretensions at the first mistake. A demand which I submitted to, after the only missed " prediction ", which slipped in passing into a note in my thesis of 1993: I had envisaged an unprecedented economical and financial collapse in 1997. The "Asian crisis" was not of the extent that I had imagined. That is why this activity is over for me! [laughing]
A.R. : Your position regarding the astrologer who draws up birth charts is very clear. Do you think that laymen should not accede to native astrology?
P.G. : At the beginning of this century, Paul Choisnard advocated the suspension of counselling. Some of those who claim filiation with it today, are multiplying the astronomical indicators which overload the birth chart, which is an absurd and irresponsible practice in my opinion. To draw up birth charts is one thing; to psychologise them and to sell them is another. Wanting to "adapt" the lost and credulous client to a society and a culture on which no critical thinking is ever performed seems to be an even worse fault in my eyes. In that case, the counselling astrologer does not become the toy of the stars, but of the entertainment industry, nothing else! Of course, the beginning astrologer must draw up birth charts, even if it were only to convince himself of the reality of astrological fact. If he continues this practise, it depends on the stakes. I am not opposed to the practice of birth charts, but to the overload of the birth chart with a multitude of elements which have never been questioned, to the psychologisation of these elements, and to their sale in counselling. Moreover, these practices are obviously infantilising the uninitiated public and, like in the case of psychotherapy, are keeping him in an unhealthy state of servitude and emptiness; and most of all they are giving a very deplorable image of astrology. One should not forget that the birth chart is only a relatively marginal application of astrology. To consider it as the whole field of astrology is presumptuous. Medical science is not elaborated in consulting rooms, but in laboratories. Apart from that, counselling astrologers usually have no respect whatsoever for research, unlike medical doctors, and are on the look-out for a few recipes that they can easily exploit with their clients.
A.R. : If astrology is neither a matter of prediction, of interpretation of birth charts, nor of psycho-astrology, then what purpose should it serve?
P.G. : That's the question. Practising astrology is to reason astrologically, to make use of what I called "matrix reasoning".. Astrology is a way for knowledge, not a sales tool. In that sense it is quite close to philosophy and religion, a religion without dogmas or rituals, a philosophy with constraints and demands of a physical nature, and which presupposes a different way of reasoning than the analytical and dualistic reasoning in use in western thinking.. The case of philosophical Buddhism is fairly close to that of astrology: what is it useful for? Astrology makes it possible to access an understanding of reality which results of "natural" perception, inherent in the temporal and structural organisation of human psyche. In this sense, astrology is a natural philosophy (if it is not a philosophy of nature), which is trans-cultural, meta-cultural, and in a certain sense even a-cultural, but not without a cultural past. Astrology is this return to the sources of human thinking, beyond the various cultural orientations and conditionings which have shaped the minds and mentalities since millennia. I believe that it will be the main ferment of the philosophy of the coming centuries.
A.R. : What will astrology evolve to in your opinion ?
P.G. : Hard to tell. Astrology finds itself at crossroads. It can continue research from innovative orientations put in place during the last century, or else it can adopt the consensus imposed by the various influence groups and go down into the common chatter currently in use and increasing in most astrological journals. I will also answer your question in a different way, Angeles: I am convinced that the golden age of astrology lies ahead, but because of the nature of its knowledge, which is essentially a matter of equanimity, the advent of astrology will only be possible with the liberation of consciences from their subjugation to mental representations and to ideologies of any nature. This will unlikely happen in the near future, and we will undoubtedly go through troubled times and estrangement from these representations in order for this future to become clearer. Ten years ago we saw the collapse of soviet ideology, which nobody expected. Other ideologies, apparently stronger, are nearing decay.
A.R. : In your thesis, academic, scientific, and common astrological positions are strongly criticised. How and in what aspect should they change?
P.G. : The academic world should become conscious of the fact that in the past most real knowledge innovations were created outside of it, and it is illusory to believe that the situation has changed. The scientific world must give up its prerogatives on knowledge in general and admit that it only represents one type of knowledge amongst others, which only ideally applies to certain types of objects, which it creates by the way. In the end, experimental science is a recent invention, the direct consequence of it being the transformation of the four variables of our environment: Earth, Men, Objects, and mental Images. One should make an assessment, and draw the consequences from it.
A.R. : What does it mean to 'think astrology' ?
P.G. : To think astrology is to question oneself and the world and at the same time to question astrological representations. It is also to question astrological models and conceptions. The common astrological discourse and practices are a jumble of absurd ideas and various theories (the parts, the planetary hours, the lunar nodes, the house systems of Campanus, Placidus and others, the four elements, progressions, minor aspects, asteroids,..) which were put in place at a given moment of its history, by a given astrologer or a given school. These ideas and systems are incompatible with each other and contradictory. They were often imagined for other reasons than astrological reasons, generally by cultural assimilation or simply by numerological methods. One can get an idea of the chaos that already existed in the Greek astrological field by reading the classical work of Bouché-Leclercq (1899). To think astrology is take on a research of epistemological nature, questioning these models and the various elements which became imbedded in the astrological corpus during its history, while confronting them to the requirements of modern thinking. In other words, it means to clean up. The field of mathematics found its unity and its logic. I wish astrology would do the same.
A.R. : To tell the truth, do you think that astrology is being denigrated because people are scared of it?
P.G. : Of course. People are scared of astrology , and it is scared as well. Astrology needs to impose itself through thinking, but also through persuasion and force. Since I am neither jupiterian nor martian, I am leaving these ways to others! [laughing]. In other words, it needs diplomats, with wide experience of social conventions and jurisdictions, warriors, and –yes!- missionaries, no salesmen or profiteers.
A.R. : In your thesis you forsake various methods and tools used by astrologers : fictive points, asteroids, sidereal astrology, house systems, and so on. But the most innovative is the use of a completely different House system that you called Dominion. What are the advantages of this house system? And how is it that the traditional system also works?
P.G. : What works or functions for astrologers is mainly the language games with symbols through unilateral analogical parallels, in other words it only "works" thanks to their verbal dexterity, and in their imagination. Dominion is the modern recast of the octopus, an older House system than the system of 12, which is only the transfer of the zodiac on the local sphere, probably devised to satisfy the needs of hourly astrology. Dominion has nothing to do with this divinatory system, which was abandoned by a certain number of astrologers in the 20th Century. It represents the eight natural spatial directions, of the compass or the winds, and translates these different spatial modalities in conscience, as integration modes to the environment. The House is an extremely powerful and even determining operator in the psychic economy of a person, since it indicates with certainty how the individuals seeks to exteriorise his aspirations. Knowing that a person is Individuation or Participation, Objectivation or Alligation, is a much more important piece of information, in my practice, than to know whether he 'is' Gemini or Libra, or even Venus or Saturn.
A.R. : How can astrology function, if it does neither through synchronicity nor through detectable physical influences?
P.G. : The idea of Jungian synchronicity is completely senseless to explain the astrological fact: I explained this several times, and Jung himself was fairly clear on this subject. As to physical influences, they necessarily exist, because otherwise no astral effect is possible. Between the physical signal and the observed behaviours, there is a space which, strictly speaking, astrology should deal with: the astral-physical space, the space of the anatomy and dynamics of psychic processes as they can be understood in the light of astrology. The astrologer generally translates that space in the form of symbols, but his remaining problem is to make the difference between this psychic-astral and his imagination, between what can be felt independently of any mental representations, and the mere result of his imagination and of the infinite games playing on the borders of what he knows –or thinks he knows- about astrology.
A.R. : What is your opinion on the current debate going on in France regarding the thesis of Mrs. Teissier and the radical opposition of French sociologists ?
P.G. : The thesis of Elizabeth Teissier is not better or worse than most theses defended in sociology. What is a good sociology thesis anyway? [laughing] Only a small fraction of the French sociology circles, and not the entire French sociology circle, sought to deny the sociological aspect of E.T.'s work and grew restless around 'the Tessier case', which seems to have formed the pretext for settling scores within the sociological circles. A principle petition was signed before the signers perused the contents of the thesis. This 'scientific' attitude reminds us of the attitude of the instigators of the American Manifest against astrology in 1975. One should know that as a support to Michel Maffesoli, the thesis director, another distinguished representative of French sociology, perhaps the only one who will pass on to posterity, Jean Baudrillard, energetically took a stand for the thesis and denounced the inquisitorial diktats of the schemers. I believe that it is essentially an ideological problem: French sociologists could not bear that a thesis on this subject, in their field, was defended by an astrologer, moreover by a media star. For them, the entire credibility of sociology is painfully being questioned, all the more since sociology already lacks scientific character endemically (on this subject, please refer to my article published on the site http://cura.free.fr/19afftei.html ).
A.R. : Many astrologers wish that the astrological fact could obtain scientific recognition. But what is certain today, is that astrology does not meet the required scientific conditions. Should astrologers not put their efforts into situating astrology in the area of hermeneutical knowledge, rather than trying in vain to place it in the area of 'hard' sciences?
P.G. : How could astrology have a place in the midst of physical sciences, when it has no physical object? As to its inclusion into hermeneutical knowledge, one should precisely wonder why it does no longer satisfy the requirements of hermeneutical thinking, otherwise there would be no reason stopping it from being part of it. I believe that astrology pertains to a completely different 'episteme' than that of hermeneutics, which I tried to define by a matrix system and by the notion of matrix reason. I believe that it is the only viable assumption for astrology, but I don't know whether universities are ready to accept it, nor when they will. Thus in this matter, astrology should not adapt, but university should transform itself. In the current situation, astrology has no place as autonomous discipline. Whether regrettable or not, (and many astrologers care very little unlike what you're saying) it is possible that astrology could find a place at a more or less short term, as an auxiliary discipline, because matrix thinking crosses all fields of thinking. This is why I am saying that practising astrology is in the first place to make use of matrix thinking, that is to put in place a plural (usually quadripolar or quadri-folded) thinking, which leads to tangible 'results', in whatever field. And to do is, one needs not even explicitly name the astrological tools (planets, signs, etc. ), but use them. Hence it is not about a battle between fields of knowledge, but about methods which cross these fields. In this way 'astrology' has already been more or less present in academic teachings, and since a long time.
A.R. : Like psychoanalysis, astrology states that a human being is the master of his existence. Is that not the reason why astrology has been banished for centuries?
P.G. : Yes, probably : astrology constantly had to handle with tact the dogma of 'free will' imposed by Christian theology, and today the dogma of freedom of conscience and of responsibility. Psychoanalysis is indeed a direct competitor of astrology, but younger, more adapted to modernity and its requirements, but also vowed to its idols and to a certain ineffectualness. The fact is that many therapists put into context the content of psychoanalytical teaching, and integrate astrological data, is not of good omen for the future of psychoanalysis, whose scientific character is more and more disparaged.
A.R. : You once defended the idea that astrology practitioners should pay a part of their income to the creation of a fund, which would be used for research, edition and translation activities of old works, and for the creation of a library. Is it not contradictory to tax the activity of people whom you partly consider harmful to the astrological cause? Should we not rather try to fight and eradicate the root of the problem?
P.G. : This proposal would in a first step only apply to horoscopes and predictions of newspapers, radio, web and other media, thus to the most harmful practices according to most 'professional' astrologers. However there is little chance for it to be accepted, because it would require that astrologers are united and have a common will, which is not the case. If nevertheless this proposal could be put in place, it would allow the development of a serious astrology which in the more or less long term would clear these appalling practices.
A.R. : What did it mean to you being awarded the Gloria de Pubill prize for the best foreign language article by the Mercurio-3 journal?
P.G. : I was very touched by this prize, which first means to me that the readers expect something different from the numerous articles on interpretation and post-factum prediction, elaborated with more or less dexterity, and which pollute most astrological journals. They are wondering, trying to understand how it works, and do not always simply believe that 'it works'..
A.R. : From your experience and your meetings at the 1st Andorra congress, what do you think of the situation of Spanish astrology compared to French astrology ?
P.G. : Sorry for expressing myself in a few terse words : Spanish astrology seemed relatively young and receptive to novelty ; French astrology is old and soured, mined since fifty years by power conflicts between rival clans and by associative interests which put a strain on its vitality. The Andorra Congress was a great success, and I was seduced by the warm and convivial atmosphere, as well as by its excellent organisation. In addition to the success of CURA in Spain and Latin America, the welcome I received in Andorra and the renewed attention Jaume Martín for my research in his Mercurio-3 journal, will soon make me ... a Spanish author! [laughing]
A.R. : Your thesis was an important contribution to astrology. What are your projects for the future?
P.G. : My only current project is to continue the research and diffusion work put in place on the CURA site, and I thank you, Angeles, for you invaluable contribution to the Spanish section of the site.
All rights reserved © 2003 Patrice Guinard