Kay Taylor: I’m really delighted I could meet with you today. Let’s just start at the beginning with how did you come into being an astrologer?
Lynn Bell: I was a vociferous reader as a child, and would read anything you put before me, including cereal boxes and newspapers. So I discovered my horoscope when I was very young. I was desperately looking for some way to explain the behavior of people around me! I think astrology was the first thing I found that helped me. In the beginning I just read the horoscopes. Then my mother, who liked to go to garage sales, must have brought home Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs or some other astrology book. I started noting the birthdays of everyone I knew, and by the time I was eleven or twelve I was certainly aware of what a sign was and what they meant.
I got more seriously interested in astrology a little later. I bought the few astrology books I could find, then ended up learning palmistry because I found Bentham's Laws of Scientific Hand Reading. It was a back door into the language of planets.There weren’t any esoteric bookstores in the neighborhood I lived in, and I didn’t really meet an astrologer until I was much older. I was conflicted, I would give my books away, then wonder where a particular book was, and ask for it back! But I couldn’t let go of it. It was never my intention to become an astrologer. It wasn’t on my radar. It was just too strong for me not to do.
KT: Did you even understand then what an astrologer was? Did you have the awareness that people did that for a living?
LB: Probably not. When you’re a child you don’t understand that anyway. I think now one can imagine being an astrologer and earning a living with it but I don’t think that was on the radar at all.
KT: So did you have other jobs during that time so that you had something to transition from to working as an astrologer?
LB: Well, I did my first chart reading when I was twenty-one. I was a graduate student in a Ph.D. program in Oregon, and dropped out after a year. I then did the usual thing, waitressing, odd jobs, but I wouldn’t say I ever had a real job. I started working after school when I was fourteen but I never really had another profession.
KT: And what were you going to study in your Ph.D?
KT: Of course, because you loved to read! So did you ever study astrology with anybody? You said you were self-taught. Who influenced you?
LB: Everyone I read influenced me but this was a long time ago, so if the only book you find is Alan Leo, it takes you in such a different direction from what you might find today. There was no such thing as psychological astrology then. It didn’t really exist. I suppose Rudhyar is who I would have been closest to but I didn’t find him until much later.
After graduate school, I had what I call my esoteric period where I haunted a bookstore in Cambridge, Ma. i would read everything on the shelves and occasionally I would buy something. I read the Germans, the Ebertin school, and occult writers like Steiner, When I read a book, I would internally say, "yes, I agree", "no I don’t agree with that."
From the beginning I had an inner filter as I read these books. I remember one of the early readings I did was for a man with many fifth house planets and the books said fifth house planets were fun, but this was a fifth house Capricorn Sun, and he was not having fun. So I would wonder why the book said one thing, and yet didn't fit the individual's experience. I taught myself through thinking the contradictions through.
I lived in Boston for awhile and I went to one class taught by Isabel Hickey and it just really didn’t work for me. At that point I knew quite a lot of astrology and I was already doing readings. The style, the language and all the rest, it really wasn’t mine. However, I think that we invisibly learn from every book we read, and I would certainly include hers. then, when I read Arroyo and Liz Greene for the first time, I felt ‘yes! this is my astrology!’ because this is what I believe; this is what I feel.
I first studied Jung when I was enrolled in Independent study, on Myth and Literature as an undergrad and my professor knew I was into astrology. He gave me Jung’s ‘Symbols of Transformation’ as part of my independent studies. So I read Jung and I started working on my dreams when I was about twenty. I came into the relationship with symbols through that personal experience and deep inner work. i also kept journals for many years. But I was reading a lot of esoteric subjects along with that even at that time.
KT: So it sounds like you both synthesized what you were reading and had a really strong inner compass of truth for you.
LB: Yes. An inner compass, exactly. There came a point when I finally decided, okay, I’m an astrologer. I went back and forth for a number of years, and finally someone said to me, ‘I believe in doing what you love in life. Otherwise what is the point? So what is it that you love the most?’
And I said ‘Well, I love astrology. When I do it, something happens that doesn’t happen anywhere else in my life. The experience of doing a reading is in a heightened, separate category from everything else I do.’
That question really helped me recognize astrology as the path that had something extra, that flowed from the life force.
I also loved cooking and was quite serious about food at the time -- although it wasn’t fashionable to be a chef then. The first work I found in France was working as a chef for a family, although 'chef' would be too glorified a word.
Once I decided I was actually an astrologer, I devoured every astrology book I could find. And of course, astrology was very, very different in France. At that time it was much more traditional, much more predictive. psychological astrology was a distinct minority along with the humanist astrologers following Rudhyar's work. So at first I was pretty much in my corner with astrology, following my own path. eventually, I found good friends among the humanists led by Alexander Ruperti. On the other hand i discovered André Barbault's groundbreaking work on Planetary cycles. Later, there was a great flowering of psychological astrology in France.
Under Neptune, I had a period where I would go to school in my dreams. I remember being shown things, like geometric patterns. During that time astrology moved out of my head and my mind and into a more integrated place inside.
KT: Yes, I understand that exactly. So how was it that you moved to France. You know, France is really my favorite place in the world and I have spent a lot of time there, especially in the south. When did you move? How old were you? What got you there?
LB: I was in my 20's. I had never felt at home where I grew up in Chicago. I really didn’t have a feeling of having a place I belonged. I don’t think I have that sense of home in the way a lot of people do. It probably has to do a lot with the kind of family I grew up in. i desperately needed distance from my very difficult family.
When I went to Europe for the first time, my grandfather, who was Greek, had moved back, around age 80. I was running away from a relationship, and decided I needed to go see the world. At the end of that first trip I ended up in France. By a series of coincidences I met people who became close friends, and a little over a year later I was back, to stay.
I had studied French in high school, and a little bit in college. That was a huge advantage. At first I was an illegal immigrant, I had no job, no place, but I had friends to stay with. I went with the intention of staying at least two years, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to integrate into another culture and learn the language in less than that time. It was such hard work; it’s really exhausting to learn another language. You have to go to bed early every night. There’s a certain moment where your brain can’t take anymore in, and I’m a communicator, so being able to speak is completely fundamental to me. I was able to give my first reading in French about a year and a half later.
KT: You said that French astrology was a little different back then--more traditional. What do you find is the difference between the astrology world in France and in North America?
LB: The French are much more intellectual, trained in cartesian thinking. Perhaps the greatest difference is that they are drawn to theory rather than practice. There are great innovators like Barbault or Gauquelin, brilliant thinkers like Luc Bige, Joelle de Gravelaine. There is a lot of depth in the french community, a deep interest in cycles, in the Black Moon Lilith, and recently a great deal of work on myth and symbol. In the UK the astrological tradition was devitalized after Lilly, whereas the French preserved their connection with authors like Morin de Villefranche to a greater degree. One difference I found especially surprising in the beginning was the way people argued. There’s a tradition of arguing in intellectual circles here, and at the same time students question teachers less. for many years there was a vibrant humanist astrology network, that held annual workshops in the french countryside, and in cities throughout France,they followed Rudhyar's approach, If you have ever read Rudhyar it will help to know that he was born in France and wrote in english. Alex Ruperti, Jean-Francois Berry, and others built a great interest in astrology throughout France, as a path to consciousness. As an american I had a reputation for being more practical: what works, how does it function, what happens in the charts of real people? In French intellectual thought, theory is always superior to practical. So that’s a huge difference.
KT: That is a huge difference. And yet you built your practice...
LB: As I said, I didn’t fit in the environment I grew up in, and being 12th house I actually thrive in a non familiar environment, where I bring something that isn't mainstream. I found that people really responded to my work very quickly, here in France, from the very beginning. I often had people much older than me who came and consulted. I was young and very fortunate, and there must have been something I was bringing in terms of humanism, the idea that astrology is a tool for consciousness, which was not so widespread then among traditional French astrologers. Somehow something I’ve always brought together psychological and real life issues, with the goal of enhancing awareness, all those layers are present. It depends on the situation and the individual what actually emerges in a reading, if that makes sense.
KT: That makes a lot of sense. So you’ve built your practice by word of mouth and you don’t have a website, which I think a lot of astrologers would find interesting...
LB: Well it’s really strange, I know, but one of the things is I actually work in many different places. People can find me through the CPA website or through StarIQ.
I know astrologers who say they do ten readings a day. I can’t even imagine. I couldn’t even conceive of that. There’s a certain limit to the amount of work I would want to do. if you’re doing writing you actually need to clear your schedule to do that. I find the amount of clients I need comes, rather mysteriously.
I will get a website, though. I’m planning to get a website!
KT: Your bio mentions Ericksonian hypnotherapy. How does that come into your work or how did you use that?
LB: First let me preface that by saying I did many kinds of psychological work and a fair amount of training in different things. I was in a traditional analysis, with both Freudian and Jungian influences, for seven or eight years. I found that the analytic model, for all its gifts, had certain limitations. I then did Ericksonian hypnotherapy training with a brilliant family systems therapist. In my practice, whole families would come to me as individuals, and I found that really, really interesting.
The other part of the Erickson work is the importance of language. It was very interesting to have a direct link to the unconscious and particularly with Ericksonian hypnosis to be aware of the way language works on the unconscious; the way you use a word or don’t use a word. Or the way you talk about the future when you say what might happen, what should happen, what you know or don't know. And very often I use language in a particular way in a session, taken from hypnosis, perhaps using simple words or voice tone to help someone connect with a physical in-body consciousness,to bypass the mental chatter.
KT: I read in a book review that “you have a reflection on the psychological implications of language in traditional astrology”
LB:I love integrating traditional discoveries into a psychological framework. I became interested, maybe twenty five years ago, in the planetary joys. They made sense to me. Again, it’s that inner filter that says ‘yes, this is right!’ but I didn’t understand why. There’s a section in Planetary Threads where I mention the joy of the Moon in the third house, the joy of Jupiter in the 11th. Since then that I’ve elaborated the joys quite a bit more and they’ve influenced my understanding of houses. So that’s one example. There are other things. At UAC this year, I spoke on Planets in Detriment. Early on, in psychological astrology we threw out some of the tradition,perhaps seeing planets in detriment as a label that made people feel bad about themselves or their chart, and so it might be glossed over. it was a sort of political correctness. The return to horary astrology, and the ensuing traditional revolution changed that. And while it is true, that these terms may lock people into a kind of hopelessness, which I’m very much against, they also have significance. How can we translate that, a planet in detriment? A man who has Mars in Cancer, may not use that Mars in a typically masculine style, and it is likely his whole relationship to what it means to be a man, is going to be different to that of a man who has Mars in Aries. It’s absolutely true. But in some traditional circles I have heard people say, 'my God, Mars in Cancer, you’re going to have trouble with that' We need to be skillful with language. I hear students say things like ‘I have Venus in Virgo, I’m doomed' People say these things all the time. i would ask, ‘what does it mean if you have a planet in detriment, What is it you’re given to do? What’s the task? in the talk at UAC I spoke about how a planet in detriment takes you on a journey that is often against the interests of the planet, order to have a connection to the planet you have to go there. It's a soul imperative.
I’m very interested in that kind of very specific, very considered thinking of what the tradition gives us. How can we language that in such a way that it makes sense for people today? I’m very interested in the ideas coming out of traditional astrology, but I’m interested in making them extremely workable and useful for everyone, not just for astrologers.
KT: And I was wondering when I read that comment if it has something to with the fact it’s important how we word things as astrologers, that there’s such a psychological impact on people, the way that we language and the way that we describe what’s going on in their chart, because many people do come away hopeless and negative, and feel that terrible things are going to happen to them permanently.
LB: I’m sure any astrologer has dealt with people who have been traumatized by other astrologers who have used language unskillfully. For example, I had a client, a Scorpio who had transits from Pluto in Scorpio at the time. He had gone to an astrologer I knew and respected, who had told him things were going to be really difficult for another seven years. Now, I can’t ever imagine saying that to a client. I was shocked because again, I came from a very different place, looking for the opening you can give to someone, even if they’re in a difficult time. But I also believe in helping people acknowledge the difficulty, to go as deep as they need to go. I believe you need to do both.
I work in a much shorter time period. I don’t do ten year readings for people. I might talk about two years out, but I almost never go beyond that because I believe we create our future through decisions we make as we go along. And we as astrologers forget that we lock people in by saying well, you know, you’re not going to get married until Progressed Venus conjuncts the Sun in ten years. Well if somebody says that to you, and you’re twenty, it might have an incredibly strong effect. Even if the person says ‘bullshit’, they won’t forget that.
Liz Greene used to say that she believed some psychological training was necessary for all astrologers. No matter how we think about astrology, it still remains magical for the people we deal with. It has a power way beyond what we imagine. People still come to me and say you predicted Such and such. And I say, ‘I don’t predict, actually. Are you sure I said that? That doesn’t sound like something I would say?’ But people will hear it that way even if you are extremely careful.
Ericksonian Hypnosis was a revelation to me because I understood on a very different level how people tie themselves up with language and how things need to be unraveled, not just on the level of the mind. Again, I’m an air sign. I’m very wordy. You’re going to get more words rather than fewer words from me, and at the same time I’m actually woking under the surface of words in a reading, looking for a place that needs to be unlocked. Often when you find it, you feel a release in a person’s awareness of what they’re experiencing, of where they’re going or what’s coming.
KT: Yes, I would agree with that, and hypnotherapy has helped me understand that people really can change when you work with the symbolic, unconscious level.
LB: Change happens here and now in the present. That's important.
There’s a moment where we become aware that it’s not our chart that’s responsible for what we do, or our past that’s responsible for what we do, but the decisions we make about the energies we have in our chart at this moment. ‘What can I do now about this situation in my life?’
KT: Very true.
LB: So for me when I have a client I have choice of where I go, what that client needs. Do I stay totally present, does the past call me, is there an experience that needs to be excavated? And I never make a decision ahead of time. It has to do with the energetic dialogue I have with the client, what emerges from the reading, an intuitive sense of what’s important, but I can do that because there are many, many years of experience and many things in my toolkit...
KT: ...And a strong intuition that I see that you have, which takes me to my next question: you’ve been working with Caroline Myss and teaching at her school. What is it you teach?
LB: Usually I teach with Caroline in her Sacred Contracts work. Caroline is a huge fan of astrology. Her Sacred Contract work which is based on archetypes has a strong resonance with what we do in astrology. When I began to work with Caroline, I really learned to speak the astrological language in a meaningful way to a larger number of people. Invoking an archetype like the hero, or the creative, the way she uses this language, translates the solar principle for a wider audience, We’re going to do a workshop in October together where we talk about how the energies of the moment interact with people’s sacred contracts in different areas of their lives.
KT: That’s sounds really good!
LB: We’re very good friends so it’s easy for us to work together. I always joke with Caroline that after I’ve worked with her I’m medically clairvoyant for about a week!
In reality, I certainly don’t do what she does, but I pick up a lot of information about people on those levels. Sometimes I’ll be doing a reading and I’ll have a pain somewhere in my body, and I’ll check with the person to see if it is coming from them or not. I pay attention to the information I get from any system, whether it's a feeling I get while sitting across from someone, or some other form of nonverbal communication. Even the fantasies I have before the client arrives may have to do with the session. Often I am moved to wear a particular color and a client will walk in wearing that same color. I sometimes have dreams about what the client brings me, the night before. So all of those are part of the field I step into as part of the work.
Actually I find that some of the readings that are more difficult are people who know a lot of astrology and have a stereotype in the way they are thinking of themselves. ‘Well I have Saturn here so I’m like this’, and I’m like ‘Erase!’
What I want to do is work on the edge of what’s not known for a person at a given time. That’s what I’m very interested in working with, just at the place that’s wanting to open.
KT: What about the Center for Psychological Astrology (CPA) in London? I noticed on their website they’ve changed the format; they’re not doing such an involved degree program. They’re saying it’s like a Plato academy. You are still teaching there?
LB:Yes, I’m still teaching there, pretty much in the same way, two or three workshops a year. Liz has stepped back from the school for the moment, and is teaching her seminars in Bath, where she lives. It was always possible to come to the CPA and take a seminar here and there and not do the degree program which involved supervision, being in London, taking a minimum of certain courses, taking certain foundation classes, again being in therapy, writing things. There is no core student body, that is why it is an academy. I also teach in other places in the U.K., like the Faculty Summer School in Oxford and the London School of Astrology (LSA).
I love going deeply into subjects and the CPA is a place that really helped me grow in my own work and evolve as the students also were looking for that very deep work.
I loved being connected to the other teachers there, like Darby Costello, Charles Harvey, Melanie Reinhardt, So it’s been fantastic to be connected to it.
KT: So what is it you’re teaching these days? What are you excited about?
LB: Good question. I’m going to be teaching something on Lilith in London in February, which I haven’t really done before. Im excited about exploring the archetype, which is a huge part of french astrology.
I’m redoing a workshop on Betrayal and Trust, which is basically about Pluto initiations. I’ll also be teaching that in February. I’m always interested in teaching the family work, which is what I’ll be doing in San Francisco (San Francisco Astrological Society) in March, and on the east coast in May. . I just came back from Asia where the book on family patterns is going to be published in Mandarin in Taiwan, so I was there teaching some of that material. But I’m approaching it in various ways, and developing very specific workshops. For example in Taiwan I taught ‘Patterns of Failure and Success in Families’ and in Hong Kong I taught on the ‘Influence of Family on Present Relationships.
In terms of new things, I have some writing I need to do right now and I’m leaving myself a little time to have some new ideas pop out.
KT: I was going to ask you about that next. You’ve mentioned that Planetary Threads is being republished, which is great, and you’ve got a couple of other books, right? You’ve got Cycles of Light, about Solar Returns....
LB: I did solar returns very early on. it was a good fit in France, where they are used actively. There were things I discovered in my early work on solar returns that I’d never seen written about and I became very well known in part of the French community for my work and teachings on solar returns. The book is in a seminar form. It’s a CPA book, with questions and answers, but in reality I integrated many, many years of experience, It’s a product of many years of research.
KT: How do you feel about the current changes in the world?
LB: As we were going into the Uranus/Pluto square, I was interviewed in 2008 at UAC and there’s a video online that people can see. I did a lot of research on Uranus/Pluto in the 90’s actually, when we had the sextile. It is a disruptor of patterns, but it’s also something necessary. In our personal, psychological, cultural and historical evolution--there’s a moment where we create a form as a society. And then it just isn’t viable anymore. We're at that point where the society we live in is clearly breaking apart, a little bit like those icebergs splitting off from the ice sheets in Greenland.
There’s so many events from Fukushima to Hurricane Sandy that have made it clear that the world we live in... you know, 100 years from now, living on the coast is probably not going to be very viable and yet it’s where the most expensive real estate is. There is so much going on, and yet, what we don’t know is how destructive those changes are going to be, what the new social form is, what the new political form is going to be. Clearly we’re stepping into new models of education, models of literacy, human technological interface... all of these things are so much bigger than our individual minds can take in, that we can only glimpse the future, like the myth of the four blind men with the elephant and how they describe it. I think astrologers are very much like that right now. Anybody predicting where society is going is a little bit like that.
There is a group emerging into adulthood right now with the Uranus/Neptune conjunction.They are the ones whose task it is to find a new vision for the future and I think we can help them. The world needs their creativity, their invention.
KT: What can you tell people about yourself that might surprise them?
LB: Well, I already mentioned that I was a cook, a chef, so what do you expect after that? (laughter) I’ve always had a spiritual practice. Perhaps people would be surprised at how strong a piece of me that is.
KT: So do you want people to know about that? I was interested in the fact you have such a strong relationship with Thich Nhat Hahn.
LB: I was very rooted in Buddhist teaching for about ten years, and I love Thich Nhat Hanh. It used to be that I was interested in every form of spirituality except Catholicism, and through teaching every year at Chartres, I've had some powerful experiences with the Cathedral, and the black Madonna. There is a strong spiritual, even mystical core to everything I do. I see astrology as a spiritual practice.
Let me talk about this a little differently. In 2005, Steven Forrest and I taught together at the first seminar in Bali, the Heaven & Earth workshop. And Steven was always quoting God. He’d say ‘God wants you to do this’, and I’d say ‘Steven, how do you know? How can you speak for God?’ And people were very shocked that I’d give him a hard time. I love Steven, we’re really friendly, but he does Evolutionary Astrology, and what I became aware of then was how much more strongly in American astrology there was a spiritual language, where astrology had evolved both in France and UK to be spiritually neutral. I think there was a period where astrology wanted to be psychology. Now psychology has been devalued in the culture and being identified with psychology isn't necessarily a plus.
I came from a different approach, connecting the astrological tradition with the humanist paradigm of consciousness and an intellectual framework. For me spirituality was something more private. And I still feel that way. One of the great gifts of astrology is that it allows us to work with many different spiritual approaches. I feel it's important to let people know when you're working from your personal beliefs, whether those are reincarnation or atheism, or conservative christianity. Yet I personally found the experience of working with Steven to be freeing for me because it allowed me to express spirituality more openly.
KT: Do you have any comments about how you feel about the direction of astrology overall?
LB: I just came back from Taipei and Hong Kong, where I was invited to teach at an astrology school created by Rod Chang in Taiwan, and Jupiter Lai in Hong Kong. So there were many young people, born in the 70‘s 80‘s and even the 90‘s. And it was really wonderful to see the enthusiasm, to see the new generation of astrologers coming up, particularly in Asian culture. I love that, and I love what a lot of astrologers are doing. I can see the creativity of the younger generation, especially their creativity with technology, with the net, with video, with different technological forms. Twenty years ago if I were researching a talk I would have to go to the library to do research, photocopy images and have them printed onto transparencies.Now with the web, information is available in an accelerated way , it speeds up creativity. things that took me twenty years to learn, younger astrologers have at their fingertips. that’s very exciting. That can only be good. Of course, even given all the gifts of technology, astrology actually does require ii time and study to integrate, as you know.
KT: That is for sure! Thank you for allowing us to interview you and share your insights with us.