Posted by: Donna Cunningham | April 17, 2010

Real World Astrology—Continuing Ed for Professionals

©4-17-2010 by Donna Cunningham, MSW

 I have a confession to make that may surprise some of you.  I haven’t read an astrology book or taken a class since about 1975. When I speak at an astrology conference, I seldom attend any of the lectures—except for friends whose talks I couldn’t skip without insulting them. And yet I have never once stopped learning about this endlessly fascinating subject of ours in the more than 40 years I’ve been involved in it. How is that possible?

I learn from listening as clients and friends share what is going on for them with transits. Active, involved listening with tons of questions. I learn from comparing their natal charts to how they operate in different situations. I learn from celebrities’ lives and from headlines about huge events. In short, I learn from observing the real world and the people in it. Without ceasing. And with one eye on an ephemeris. I call this real world astrology.

Real world astrology is the greatest teacher of our art. Theoretical astrology—and there’s an awful lot of it out there—is only theory if it’s not based in direct observation. 

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; In practice, there is.  Chuck Reid

 If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts. Albert Einstein

 The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.  Mark Russell  

Does this mean you should stop reading astrology books?  Of course not.  I hope you read mine.  But don’t let reliance on cookbook interpretations replace direct observation, or you’ll wind up using them as a crutch.

You’ll suffer from mental paralysis as you prepare for a reading, and you’ll drag those books down from the shelves, hoping to find the exact chart feature you need. If someone asks you an astrology question in Starbucks, you’re lost! 

In choosing books or classes, gravitate towards those that encourage you to learn how to put the combinations together yourself, rather than memorizing everything.

The Down Side of Cookbook Astrology

 There’s another consequence of relying only on astrology texts—even mine.  Each astrologer attracts mostly a certain type of client, based on the astrologer’s own chart. 

When I was first starting out, I honestly believed most people had Venus-Saturn aspects, because most of the charts I encountered did.  Finally I realized that I was attracting Venus-Saturn friends and clients because of my own Venus-Saturn conjunction.  I hardly knew anybody with a Venus-Jupiter conjunction, so I hadn’t a clue what that aspect would be like. I wasn’t even certain it existed.

 And I’m not unique in drawing clients like myself—it’s pretty universal among astrologers and healers, based on the law of attraction.  That being true, the conclusions an astrological author or lecturer reaches about astrology—and thus about life—are likely to be from a point of view limited by their own experience. 

If you, as a typical eager student, accept our perspectives as the absolute truth, then your understanding of astrology is based on preconceived notions that are limited to the experience of the astrologers whose ideas you read or study.

 Those ideas are of value as a starting place, but they may or may not be applicable to the charts that come your way–or the particular niche of clients that you attract.  Only keenly observing—and actively questioning—the person whose chart you’re working with can reveal the patterns.

How I’ve learned the myriad ways a given aspect or chart feature can express itself is by listening to many, many clients with that feature over the years.

Now that I’m retired from doing charts, I’ve wondered—and worried—about the possibility that my knowledge base will atrophy over the years and become outdated because of the ever-shifting astrological combinations.

 Continuing Education for an Astrologer Retired from Active Duty

I needn’t have worried though.  Because what has happened here on Skywriter is that the comment sections for many of the topics we’re working with are filled with information from insightful, articulate, self-aware readers.  I still get to ask questions about what particular chart features mean to a variety of people and exactly how they get expressed.  And people respond from the heart.

For instance, I wrote about a stellium in the 11th house in my chart, and asked readers with stelliums to share about their own in The Incredible Vulnerability a Stellium Creates. The sharing went on for days, and in the end, people with stelliums in all 12 houses had pitched in.  So we learned, in a way no single chart consultation could have provided, about the full range of stelliums.  The response to that—and other posts like Uranus in Aries—a Heads Up for the Accident Prone have been like mini research projects or tutorials. 

Thank you, readers, for sharing yourselves and your experiences.  You teach us all, and I for one love to hear about your lives.  Links to articles that have been enriched by readers’ comments are here: Articles that made Readers Want to Share.  

Articles for Professional Astrologers

free astrology booklet by Donna CunninghamIf this post was helpful, sign up for a subscription, and get a FREE EBOOKLET for Skywriter Subscribers Only: Mothers, Daughters, and the Moon, a 50-page excerpt from The Moon in your Life. Read more about it here: New: Free Booklet For Skywriter Subscribers! 

  If you’re already a subscriber and want a copy, forward the most recent email post to me at To sign up for a subscription, go to the top right hand corner of the blog and click on “Subscribe.”  Then send me an email with your subscription confirmation or an email post with a request for the booklet in the subject line.


  1. Donna, I have to confess — I am also using real life for my studies. My job enables me to not only have access to birthdates, but also to various problems people are facing. Without breaching any confidentiality constraints, I’m quietly adding to my astrological knowledge. Of course, I have no idea of times of birth, so that knowledge is still limited.

    • Hmm. Exactly where I was at that stage in my studies. As a medical social worker, I naturally had birth dates, but also sometimes acess to actual birth certificates. I didn’t bring the chart into the session with the clients, given the medical hierarchy, but did quietly study the astrological placements of clients I worked with over timel. Donna

  2. Thanks for posting this. Hopefully, this will make me look at more charts!

  3. Since you have studied Astrology in real life could you address what astrology can do and can’t do in terms of prediction, and or self knowledge. I really thought in the beginning of my search that astrology could tell me what was around the corner for me and in hindsight and present sight I just don’t see how anyone could predict what unique manifestation of the energies will look like in real life.
    What should we really be gaining from astrology and what is unavailable to us from a chart?
    Here is a link to Elsa’s take on this

    • Hi, Robin, my use of astrology wasn’t focused on predictions. My background was in social work (MSW) and what drew me to study it was to use it to explore psychological dynamics and find out why people had the kinds of blockages and recurring problems that got in their way.

      If the session helped them gain insight into the self-defeating patterns and warned them when there were transits that might trigger those patterns again, they could change the outcome by handling the planetary energies differently. I always said that if my predictions were 100% accurate, then I wasn’t doing my job, because all they were doing was repeating old mistakes.

      And, no, I don’t believe we can be 100% accurate anyway. Any given transit can manifest on a variety of levels. Even the same aspect repeated–e.g. Saturn transits that repeat at different ages–will turn out differently than the last time because the person has hopefully matured and will approach the new challenge differently. Donna

    • also, there is such a thing as horary astrology, which was used back in the day for prediction. if you interested in that style of astrology then you should check out pax mercurius’ blog here on wordpress.

      • Hi, AE, I am also a great believer in horary astrology, and whenever I have to make a really crucial decision and need a yes/no answer, I call my horary practitioner, Diana Stone. ( Whatever she says to do, I do forthwith! Donna

  4. Yay! I’m not alone. I’ve definitely learnt so much more by doing readings and discussing astrology on forums and blogs like this.

  5. This has been my take on things too. I’m a voracious reader by nature, so I chew through astrology books on a rapid schedule, but a lot of my most valuable learning has been by looking at the charts of friends, coworkers, and the people who move through my life.

    I think all of us who come here to comment are as eager to share as you are to read our commentary- it’s really nice to see other people’s take on an article and how it relates to charts that are different from our own. Endlessly fascinating. Thank you Donna!

  6. That’s so true about astrologers attracting clients whose charts relate to their own in some way. I used to worry because my first clients all seemed to have Saturn aspects with my own chart, until I realized the Saturn aspects meant I was learning so much from their charts and our discussions about the readings – Saturn the teacher!

    • And they learned from you, too. When I think about mentors, I believe they represent Saturn more than Jupiter (must write about that someday), for they are benign authority figures and role models who inspire us to do our best. Donna

  7. I have always used astrology for my life and those I care for…obviously not clients..for example I would advise my husband on hiring individuals. I would look to see if they would be compatible, if there would be power issues, and so on. The immediate feedback helped me learn things not found in the many books I have read. I once said dont hire this woman because she will fall in love with you. He said Oh, No,she is married! So he hired her and within the year she divorced and they had a stormy affair (uranus cut it short) and I had learned another neptune/moon/venus lesson! (natal T square)
    Before computer world, if asked, I would just use my ephemeris to track natal placements and transits. And, Yes, I would do that in Starbucks!

  8. Hi, Donna.

    Yes, me too. I am constantly watching, listening, and observing, then running to my astro program to examine the person’s or event’s chart to learn. Since my focus is business astrology, I’ve also developed a habit of checking the exact time a certain business article is published and then drawing a chart for that moment. Then I pour over the chart tying the business effect and language to the astro chart. This has been a great learning tool.

    But I have doubts about the methodology you mention too. Let me see if I can put it into words. An example would be the recent volcanic ash clouding the skies in Europe. I’ve read astrologers say that, oh, of course, a sign of Mercury retrograde. But there are many times planes are grounded, train strikes, traffic snarls that are not under Mercury retrograde. How can we avoid taking observations and turning them into theory, ignoring all the instances when it isn’t justified?

    • Saw on Pat Hardy’s FB page that the sun was a 0 Aries at the time of the eruption. I thought they were tying this one to the current tense outer planet configuration.

    • Good point, Ellen. There’s a difference between observations and conclusions, because we form conclusions out of that Jupiterian need to think we have all the answers, and when we rush to have answers we are so often wrong. then we persist in those wrong conclusions and close our mind to additional evidence I have a Sag friend who I’ve learned not to discuss my problems with, because she won’t hear me out completely with all the strands of my dilemma, she just rushes to give me an answer that is totally wrong. Donna

  9. I believe that one of the more important skills a consulting astrologer can have is listening. The client really does speak the chart.
    However, I do find it helpful to read other astrologer’s books and go to lectures. The words used, the phrases of explanation, often help me come up with new reflections and reframings for my client. Blogs serve a similar function.

    • This is true, Jacqueline. I find blogs to have some of the freshest insights, rather than endlessly regurgitating things that have been written by others. Donna

  10. Hey, Donna. I wanted to add that another great technique for learning for me has been to read your great posts, like on Uranus in the 2nd, and then pull all the charts of my clients and family that have that placement. I then think about them in terms of what you’ve said. It really adds to my understanding of key issues in their lives to do this.

  11. There really is no substitute for listening and observing, is there. That and looking at many, many charts with an open mind.

    I still will consult one of my many astrology books occasionally to get a second or third opinion, especially if I’m dealing with having to come up with just the right words to explain what I’m seeing in a chart.

    Remember the traditional apprenticeship system where it took 21 yrs (7X3) to reach mastery? In our fast forward world, the urge to skip important steps is everywhere.

    I am continually impressed with the quality of comments and feedback on your blog, Donna! We all got lucky when you decided to take this up! 🙂


    • Thanks, Diane. I’ll never forget what you wrote in the earliest days when I was still struggling to learn how to blog and wasn’t even sure if I wanted to or was on the right track: “We all got lucky when Donna Cunningham joined the blogosphere.” It meant so much to me. Donna

  12. Thank you for your clarity and sanity and application Donna. I think that one part of real world astrology, which you certainly practice, is being willing to reveal oneself. Especially when you’re a professional practitioner. It’s not easy, and you’ve touched on that in a few places in your blog.

    My partner Joe Landwehr has braved that place too and decided that he really wanted to teach people to own their own charts so to speak.

    He felt that he couldn’t do that if he wasn’t willing to walk his talk. That led to his own recent blog which he is a bit reticent about promoting.

    Since I think it is relevent here, I thought I’d quote him from

    ‘When I began my study of astrology, nearly 40 years ago, I was enamored of the symbolism, and fascinated by what others were saying about it. Beyond their words, I sensed a certain uncharted exploration of life, as witnessed through an astrological lens, and I knew I wanted to join this small cadre of intrepid explorers in their shared adventure.

    ‘At a certain point in my studies, however, I had to stop reading astrology books. Ninety percent of them, it seemed to me, were a mere rehash of what others had experienced or rehashed themselves, or else speculative astrology applying to everyone but no one in particular. It became increasingly disappointing to me that there were few fresh insights arising from actual moments of discovery…..

    ‘If, after all, the heart and soul of the course that I teach depends upon a willingness to use the chart as a point of entry through which to enter the spiritual adventure at the core of the life behind a chart, then my teaching must begin with my own willingness to do this for myself. My own highest sense of integrity as a teacher demands nothing less.’

    I’m delighted to be learning from both of you!

    • I like what he wrote. Thanks for sharing it. Donna

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: