Enjoy the conversation below with Virginia Bell, author of Midlife Is Not a Crisis.
What does the Saturn Return mean? You hear that term a lot.
Every year we have a Solar Return or what is commonly known as our birthday. The sun returns to where it was at birth. The planet Saturn takes 29 years to return to where it began at birth. At 29 we have our Saturn birthday or Saturn Return. Saturn is that planet of reality, responsibility, hard work, maturity; around 29 we tend to get serious and make a commitment. Maybe we go into business for ourselves, get married, start a family, get sober, or go back to school. If we’re doing it right we work hard and mature in the process. We build something that will come to define us. Our thirties are our Saturn years. It’s the first life cycle and lays the foundation for whatever follows.
How did you get involved in astrology?
I’ve always been interested in astrology; in fact I had an astrologer on staff at my restaurant (he ate in exchange for readings) but I always thought of astrology as simply a form of prediction (as in, when will this crisis be over?). It wasn’t until I read Steven Forrest’s book, The Inner Sky, that I realized it was so much more. From then on, I was hooked.
What’s the difference between a sun sign column you read in the paper and having an actual reading with an astrologer?
The sun sign columns are based on one thing—the sun. Now, the sun is the most important symbol in the horoscope so it carries a lot of weight, which is why those columns are often spot on. But it’s not the only thing in the horoscope. Your individual chart is a picture of the sky at the moment you were born and includes the sun, moon plus eight other planets. All those planets are in a sign and a house (an area of the sky). An astrologer blends all that information to give you an in-depth analysis. It’s like getting a (cosmic) DNA test, so to speak.
What about all these new planets being discovered? Does that change the chart?
Yes and no. There are lots of new planets but until astrologers have enough information about them they probably won’t include them in a reading. Chiron was discovered in 1977 and many astrologers (myself included) use Chiron. Sedna and Eris are two newer planets. Sedna was discovered in 2003; Eris in 2005. Some astrologers do use them. There’s already a great deal of information to cover and sometimes it can be confusing for a client.
There are a lot of generalizations in astrology. How can all Scorpios (for instance) be sexy and secretive?
The sun is the biggest ingredient in the recipe, so to speak, but it is flavored by other ingredients. Scorpios are intense but if someone has a moon in cozy Cancer or a gentle Pisces rising, then that will influence them greatly.
What exactly is astrology?
Astrology is a system or language that uses symbols; the sun, moon, planets, signs, houses and aspects. These symbols relate to different parts of our self as well as our past and our future. An astrologer interprets these symbols to discover our strengths, gifts, and goals as well as our weaknesses and how to heal them. The birth chart is a map of the heavens; a powerful tool for self-discovery and a guide to becoming actualized.
When did astrology begin?
Since the beginning of time humans have gazed up at the heavens in search of meaning. No written records exist to tell us the exact moment astrology began, but we do know that it was in the ancient Middle Eastern city of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia that a primitive form of astrology was first discovered. Astrology has been an integral part of every great civilization, from the Greeks and Romans to the Chinese, Egyptians, and Hindus. Today astrology is flourishing in the 21st Century; thanks to the Internet, astrology is more popular than ever.
Why do so many people read their horoscopes?
Life is challenging; I think people want to read something positive and uplifting. In a way it takes us out of our ordinary world; it brings a bit of magic and mystery, even for a few moments.
How much astrology does someone need to know to understand this book?
None at all. The book is based on the generational life cycles we all share at the same age, such as the Saturn Return at 29 and midlife, etc. I do have an overview of astrology in the beginning explaining the planets, signs, houses, and many astrological terms. But it comes with a warning: astrology is addictive. It is an ancient language; one that includes mythology, gods and goddesses who, by the way, are far more exciting than reality stars. It can be very seductive.
What about people born the same day, same year? Are those people alike?
There would be some parallels, yes, but since they aren’t born at the same exact time, there would also be differences. It’s called an astrological twin. Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born same day, same year. So were Angelina Jolie and Russell Brand.
Are you looking to learn more about Christian Mystics? Read on!
What is Christian Mysticism?
It’s an umbrella term for a profound type of spirituality which stresses encountering the presence of God and realizing union with God. It is the closest thing within Christianity to “enlightenment” as understood in eastern religions.
Who are some of the great Christian mystics?
Some of the mystics are well-known: figures like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine, and St. Teresa of Avila. Others are not as well-known but are amazing, fascinating personalities: figures like Julian of Norwich (14th century) or Thomas Merton (20th century)
How does someone become a mystic?
That’s a great question, because there is no official process for being recognized as a mystic (such as there is in the Catholic Church for canonizing saints). The great mystics are usually recognized in hindsight, because their writings or their teachings contain universal spiritual truth and profound insight into the heart and mind of God.
Can anyone be a mystic?
Absolutely! In fact, a renowned German Christian writer in the 20th century, Karl Rahner, said “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” Another writer, William McNamara, said “the mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic.” Therefore, the first step to being a mystic is being true to yourself; every mystic, like every human being, is unique.
What does it take to become a mystic?
The great mystics usually taught that to be a mystic requires three things: a deep commitment to holiness (to being a person of heroic virtue); a daily practice of prayer and meditation; and a willingness to give your life fully to God, which means fully to Divine Love. Obviously these are tall orders! But it’s a lifelong process. “Becoming a mystic” doesn’t happen overnight; it’s usually the result of years of prayer and meditation.
Some of the mystics listed in this book are called “heretics.” What does that mean?
Many of the great mystics, down the ages, were controversial figures in their day. Their teachings often were rejected by the religious establishment, and some of them were even condemned for their views. Ironically, though, some of the great mystics eventually become honored as saints! Mystics are often visionaries, calling humanity forward into new ways of responding to the Love of God. Like all visionaries, sometimes their wisdom and value was not recognized until long after their death.
You also have a category of poets who are mystics. Why do mystics write poetry?
Not all mystics are writers, of course, but it’s the ones who wrote down their life stories or their teachings who are remembered by posterity. Interestingly, many mystics were poets — lovers of language who wrote about their visions and their experience of God in lyrical and beautiful ways. Indeed, some of the great mystics, like St. John of the Cross or John Donne, are also considered classical poets, honored for their literary achievements as much as their spiritual genius.
What, in a nutshell, do the mystics teach?
Since there are so many different types of mystics, it’s hard to summarize their teachings briefly. But I think you can see some general themes: mystics proclaim that God is a God of infinite, unconditional Love, a God of Love who desires to be close to each of us, and who wants us to be happy — a happiness that is found in union with God. Beyond that, the many mystics offer many different “maps” or methods for attaining that Divine Love in our lives.
Are there any great mystics who are still alive today?
Indeed there are. In the book, I profile several mystics who were alive when the book was written, including Bruno Barnhart, Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating and Willigis Jäger. Each of these figures are famous for the writings filled with spiritual wisdom and inspirational insight.
Some of the mystics seem to be very interfaith in their approach. Is this normal?
Actually, interfaith-friendly mystics have been a part of the Christian path since the first centuries, but it has become more common in recent years as Christians have become more familiar with other faiths. Even though Christian mystics tend to be deeply devoted to Jesus, they also often are open to other streams of wisdom, such as Buddhism or Vedanta. I’ve profiled several of these “interfaith-friendly mystics” as a way of celebrating the deep spiritual wisdom that is found throughout the world — among Christians as well as the adherents of other paths.
Why did you decide to write this book, at this time?
I have been a long time student of the course and find I “talk the course” in nearly all of the writing I do these days. My first book that dealt directly with the course was published in 1995. It was Daily Meditations for Practicing the Course. Nearly every book I have written since then has “a touch” of the course wisdom in them because that wisdom has been infused in my life. Writing a book of practical course essays is one way of making the course accessible to others, and that is near and dear to my heart.
What is it about the course that has captured your attention?
Immediately upon reading the first few pages of A Course in Miracles. More than thirty years ago, I knew my life was going to change. Even though I didn’t fully grasp all that I was reading at that time, I knew the time would come. I firmly believe that what we have been readied for calls to us. That’s how I felt about the course. I simply knew I was ready for a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit.
Why do you want to introduce others to the spiritual pathway?
I have never experienced so many moments of true peace and joy before I became a devoted student of the course. I simply want others to know peace too. There are far too many distractions in this chaotic world and I want to help others be able to see past the distractions and see the peace that I have discovered.
What areas of your life have been most affected by becoming a student of A Course in Miracles?
My relationships have improved significantly, and my recovery in the Twelve Step fellowship has been positively affected too. Each and every day feels more joyful and hopeful because I know I have a choice regarding which “voice” I will listen to. That choice has changed everything.
Can you give the newcomer to the course a short overview of what he or she is about to experience?
One of the first tenets of the course is that every expression voiced or action taken in any encounter is coming from a place of love or a place of fear. That bit of short hand helps me to meet whatever I experience with a willingness to accept and be loving. Another beautifully simple tenet is this: every loving thought is true, everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes. And finally, a miracle, according to the course, is simply a shift in perception. All three of these ideas, when embraced, can change the trajectory of one’s life.
How will your book positively change the lives of readers?
I honestly believe that living less chaotic lives is possible and that making the choice to see our experiences differently is possible. Choosing to listen to the quieter voice of the Holy Spirit in our minds will become habit with practice, and when that has happened, nothing about our lives will be the same, ever again. 52 Way to Live the Course in Miracles can ensure all of this is possible.
Check out this conversation with Dr. Deborah Sandella, author of Goodbye, Hurt & Pain, about identifying and addressing feelings.
You say you don’t need to “talk about your feelings.” Isn’t this the way most people deal with feelings? How can this be?
Talking about our feelings has been the primary way of dealing with feelings in the past. However, neuroscience has revealed more recently that feelings are a body experience rather than a thinking process. In other words, the body speaks to us through the direct experience of senses, imagery and symbolism instead of Left Brain logical, verbal communication. Although talking about our feelings can connect us with others, it does not release intense emotion stuck in the body; thus, feelings linger out of sight and sabotage our success without us realizing it.
If we don’t need to talk about our feelings, what do we do with them?
Feelings have a natural shelf life when we allow them to flow, much like the water in a river. Feelings occur spontaneously and have a natural momentum, which when allowed, gives us important self-direction before they expire. The problem occurs when we try to stop unpleasant feelings by ignoring, resisting and burying them. It’s like creating a dam in the river, which causes these emotions we want gone to eddy in our bodies indefinitely. The secret is to create floodgates that allow the release of feelings in a safe way without the risk of flooding.
What does it mean when you say feelings have form?
Because feelings are invisible they seem overwhelming—they have no boundaries. Imagination however can translate feelings into form. When “anger” is sensed as a small, red ball of hot energy, the Left Brain becomes engaged in managing and measuring the “anger.” Now the logical Left Brain and emotional Right Brain become partners to solve a problem. It works quite easily and quickly.
What’s a simple thing we can do when we are stuck in a negative feeling?
I call it the “Pouring Feelings From the Pitcher” technique. Write on paper whatever comes into your mind so you are able to fully express yourself without fear of hurting another or having them retaliate. Keep writing until you feel something inside you shift. Our feelings are not us, they are transient states passing through us. When we allow them to flow in a safe way, we gain clarity about an issue and our choices.
What would you say is the most important thing we can teach our children about feelings?
Feelings are natural, spontaneous aspects of our inner radar. They aren’t good or bad; rather, they are constant feedback from our inner emotional operating system. Receiving and recognizing our emotions is a great gift that helps us gain insight and a sense of wise direction even when our feelings are uncomfortable like anger and jealousy. Rather than assume they are true or false, it’s most beneficial to perceive feelings as constant input. Some are accurate and some are distorted. Investigating what’s true and what can be learned about ourselves results in wisdom and self-trust.
Teaching children how to identify their feelings without judging them will help them be emotionally healthy and self-motivated. Letting go of our criticism of undesirable feelings is important for our natural emotional operating system to function adequately. When parents try to guilt their child out of ugly feelings, they give the message that the child can’t trust their inner radar. Feelings engage a process not a conclusion.
Dr. Deborah Sandella has been helping thousands of people find themselves for 40 years as an award-winning psychotherapist, university professor, and originator of the groundbreaking RIM Method. She has been acknowledged with numerous professional awards including Outstanding Clinical Specialist, Research Excellence, and an EVVY Best Personal Growth Book Award. She is the co-author with Jack Canfield of Awakening Power.
Are you interested in learning more about The English Magic Tarot? Here is a great interview with the creators, Rex, Steve and Andy!
Why did you become interested in the Tarot?
REX: I had a reading from a gypsy woman in St. Ives when I was eighteen. Twenty years on I was struck by the accuracy with which she had foretold my life. I bought an old Pamela Colman Smith deck and was given a Frieda Harris deck and studied both intently. I loved the stories the tarot told me. It was like reading an ever changing comic book.
Did you always want to create a Tarot deck?
STEVE: No, and yet it is no surprise that I have. With my interest in consciousness and human behavior, working with archetypes was very familiar. Carl Jung had much to say on this. He is a starting point for further discussion, interest and research for many.
What do you think is unique about The English Magic Tarot — after all, there are many thousands of Tarot decks in the world?
ANDY: Three things make the EMT unique. First, there is Rex’s artwork, and Steve’s coloring that give the cards the feel of being panels from a graphic novel. The cards contain movement and depth and often feel like they’re leaping from the page. Second, our storytelling approach to the tarot means we encourage people to use the cards as a device to help them discover, and take control of the stories they tell about themselves and their lives. And finally, there is the period in which the cards are set, and the emphasis on English magic.
What is English Magic?
ANDY: English magic is a distinctive, local branch of natural magic. It has evolved through many iterations, from prehistoric times to the present day, and freely blends high and low magic. One constant is that it regards the cosmos as animate, and our place in the world as significant. It calls us to rediscover a magical connection with the land upon which we happen to live, whether that be England or elsewhere. It supposes that through practice and study (not least, of the tarot!) we can attain a greater understanding of the disparate parts of the self, and the magical connections that permeate the universe. Through English magic we can attain a state of gnosis and true knowledge of the world.
When and how did you become involved with this project?
STEVE: Rex and I met while walking across the wild landscape of Dartmoor ten years ago. We have talked and colluded ever since. The tarot collaboration was bound to happen. Rex likes drawing and he knows I like color. Andy arrived in town recently as a musician and writer. It was fortuitous. It was fortune. We were all bound to meet and work together. Things like this happen all the time in this small town.
How did you invent the card images?
REX: I meditated on the cards’ meaning using a drum beat to induce a trance state… sometimes dancing… sometimes prone. When I had imagined the “image,” I broke my trance and drew what was in my mind.
How did the coloring happen?
STEVE: After much discussion and pouring over Rex’s drawings I shut myself away. At no point did Rex say how I should color the cards. He had faith. I devised an entire palette purely on instinct. It had to work for me on many levels. Each card had to work as an individual image, yet they also had to work together. I wanted them to be earthy yet bright, old but relative to today.
Psychologically and emotionally the color combinations had to talk. Color affects me greatly and I hope this shows. I also had to listen carefully to what the cards told me to do. They spoke volumes.
We understand there are riddles and clues hidden in the cards. Can you say more?
ANDY: There are indeed riddles, references, and lore scattered through every card, such as strange writing, books with unusual titles, or letters printed in odd colors. All these are significant and have been placed there deliberately. On one level, they are there simply to encourage readers to look more closely at the cards, and to entice them into a deeper understanding of English magic. But we also wanted there to be an overarching theme to the cards, something that ran through them all and bound them together, something unique to English magic. So the riddles do all point to something. It’s a kind of treasure hunt, if you will, and there is an actual answer at the end.
Why is the Tarot still relevant in the modern age?
ANDY: We regard the tarot as a kind of distillation of Western wisdom. By using the cards you are playing with the building blocks of story. The cards allow us to make sense of our lives, the trials and tribulations we all face, to name and change the stories we habitually tell ourselves.
Rex Van Ryn is a comic book artist who has worked for Marvel and IPC, producing strips for 2000AD and Scorer, amongst others. He has worked as a storyboard artist for numerous films and TV shows.
Stephen Dooley has worked extensively in Britain and Europe painting murals and trompe l’oeil frescoes. He recently co-produced the Wind in the Willows app for the iPad.
Andy Letcher is the author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom (Faber & Faber, 2006, UK; Harper, 2008, US) and numerous scholarly articles on paganism, shamanism, and folklore. He has been a practicing Druid for 20 years and gave his first tarot reading at age 11.