Meanwhile, today I field a question that I've received lately from several different readers. This is something I'm making a point to do more often this year in my dailies, especially when the same question arises from multiple readers simultaneously. I always take that as an indication of the timeliness of the question and usually give extra attention in my work. Today's question goes like this, "Does the birth chart show us possibilities about what will happen in the course of our lives, or does it show us our fate?"
First it's important to say that this question is handled differently by different astrologers, different schools of astrology, and has been a hot topic for as long as astrology has been around. So the only thing any practitioner can do is to think it over, over and over again as they grow in their work, and try to avoid self righteousness around their own philosophical conclusions. That being said, my own perspective is still a work in progress. I almost want to answer the question by saying, "get back to me in another 10 years." But I would be lying if I said I didn't have a working philosophy on the subject, so I'll just try to present that as best I can.
To me the astrological birth chart isn't just the picture of an individual, at least not primarily. First it is a picture of eternity through the image of a moment in time, echoing the idea that "time is the moving image of eternity" (Plato). From this starting point the cosmos in all its different parts similarly shows the fullness of what is being symbolized. The chart is therefore about much more than what is being primarily signified (say, a person) but also about the entire environment and cosmos in which that person or event or question is situated. Learning to see from this perspective has changed my views on fate/free will dramatically.
When we see from this larger perspective we are seeing fate as the exact image of what someone chooses, freely, along with all the other factors and myriad circumstances outside of our personal choices that conspire to give us the symbolic picture of life. The chart is littered with people, places, events, qualities, etc. The individual is within that picture but is no more the totality of that picture than Jupiter is the same as Saturn or Venus the same as Mars.
When we use the word "destined" or "fated" in astrology, we're often thinking of someone (God, the daemon, the soul) pre-scripting everything that needs to or should or will happen. When we use the word "free will" in astrology, we're often thinking just the opposite, that nothing is pre-scripted and that I am free, therefore, to choose my own fate or destiny (the birth chart is hence just likelihoods, behavioral trends, or possibilities that we must take responsibility for). What I'm saying is that just because something can be seen objectively from the fullness of time does not mean that it is predetermined (hence eradicating choice), and just because it's not predetermined does it mean that we are fully choosing our own fate or fortune in life.
The chart shows all of this in symbolic language of course; this point can't be forgotten. With how much detail or generality we might communicate anything a chart shows us, and with what integrity or whether truthfully and compassionately or not, depends largely on why we are approaching the chart as well as the skill or consciousness of the practitioner and the methods being used.
Some people might fairly object, "Where does growth come into this picture?" First I would say that not everybody grows morally or spiritually, that it isn't everyone's fate or destiny to grow in this way because not everyone chooses such things and circumstances do not always intervene or open the pathway for growth to occur. That the chart may also show this may seem like an argument against free will, but for me it's not. Because we have to remember that the chart takes us toward being from the realm of becoming. And again, from this timeless perspective, though we may see what people choose or how circumstances conspire for or against a person's "growth," the act of seeing astrologically does not necessitate or predetermine these events. Furthermore, from the perspective of this symbolic/eternal vantage point everything is already "good," so to speak, and we have no reason to worry. For this reason I've also come to believe that the emphasis on "growth" or "evolution," in astrology is frequently a red herring.
Some people also fairly object, "What would the point be of trying to help people enlighten up if the chart shows that they won't?" A good question. A simple response would be to compare this to a situation in real life. Just because it's unlikely that an alcoholic friend will respond to an intervention doesn't mean that you don't try. Just because a wounded dog is likely to bite the hand that attempts to feed it doesn't mean you won't try to help it, right?! We also have to remember that our choices and our personal circumstances are part of how "growth" may happen for others and this is deeply mysterious. Therefore, to look at an individual's chart first and foremost as something capable of tremendous spiritual growth, OR to look at it their life as doomed to spiritual failure, strikes me as morally questionable.
Summing it up, for me the first purpose of astrology is thus about the very basic and symbolically objective description of character, psychology, fate, and fortune, seen as a convalescence of choices and circumstances from the perspective of eternity (though always through a glass darkly...remembering that the chart is symbolic). For many people these symbolic descriptions become the vehicle by which the same eternal perspective is embodied in everyday life, hence sanctifying the life of the soul as something both deeply blessed by and yet much more than it's choices and earthly circumstances.
As I mentioned above, this is where my experience and studies have led me as an astrologer to date, but I continue to grow by hearing all my friends and colleagues takes on these matters, how we've each chosen our positions, and I still hold by my first instinctive answer to this question, "Ask me again in about 10 years!"
Prayer: Help us to see beyond time, beyond growth and regression, beyond spiritual ambition or spiritual failure, to the fullness of the soul's name in eternity