This morning, in preparation for teaching a course, I pulled out all of my astrological books and looked at them.  I set them all out on a table, and arranged them in piles according to topic, reminiscing and noting the gaps.

I had never done that before.  

To begin with, I should say that I’m an autodidact.  I taught myself astrology.  Of course I had other teachers, too, and remarkable ones; but the bulk of the work I did myself, poring feverishly over these books for hours, trying to grasp concepts that were just beyond my ken.  I read everything I could find about astrology—read indiscriminately, and then sifted.  I found some stinkers—some specious in their claims; some impenetrable; some merely vulgar, capitalizing on the faddish, “pop-psych” approach of the late ‘60s.  And the writing—varies.  Some astrologers are also born writers: their prose sings, and their knowledge shines through the song; others are turgid plodders, suffused with the glow of the Grail and incapable of articulating their vision.  Styles of astrologia very much reflect the era in which each was written; and a lot of what I did—and do—consisted in straining to extract real nuggets from literary dross.

Where did I find these books?  Everywhere.  Bookstores of every description—arcane ones generally have a better selection, but I have found treasures in cardboard boxes in the backrooms of used booksellers.  Libraries.  On-line mail-order used catalogues.  Yard sales.  The Salvation Army basement.  Friends.  Friends of friends.  Word-of-mouth.  The Mountain Astrologer.  One of my all-time favourite tomes came in a package from my Great-Aunt Emily, who vaguely felt I should have it–Destiny Times Six: An Astrologer’s Casebook, by Katharine de Jersey.  That book changed my life and set my course.  (I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. de Jersey, a popular and well-respected astrologer practicing in Chicago from the ‘40s through the ‘70s, before she died—a generous and beautiful soul.)

What I read, I tested.  With friends; with colleagues; and eventually, with clients.  I also used my own map as litmus, since I knew that chart better than any other.  And each of these books—even the awful ones—is like an old friend, since we’ve been through the wars together; and some reflect that, because they’re falling apart.  Many are out of print.  Some are missing—books I’d blithely lent, certain that the borrowers would return them: the churls betrayed my trust.  I’m so happy that I took the time this morning to renew our acquaintance, and I know that my students will be a thousand times richer for it.

Hey, whoever has my copy of The Case For Astrology, by John Anthony West and Jan Gerhard Toonder, would you please give it back?