Interview with Garry Phillipson
This interview was given in 2002 to the British philosopher, historian and sociologist Garry Phillipson ( University of Wales) who tried to get some kind of idea of what life had been like for astrologers in the USSR, with a government which imposed a total prohibition on the practice of astrology.
Astrology was banned in Russia for many years – I wonder if you could say a little about how and why it was banned, and then how the ban was eventually lifted?
To begin with, one should be reminded that the corner-stone of Communist Statehood was the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Interestingly enough, this was itself a peculiar blend of vulgar materialism and elements of the most bizarre idealism. Anyway, the main concern of Communist propaganda was maintaining the ideological virginity of the Soviet people, along with the debunking of other ideologies and philosophies.
Religion was considered the number one enemy. Occultism, magical practices, and all sorts of divination – including astrology – were, on the one hand, viewed as evidence of Capitalism’s decay. On the other hand, the Kremlin’s ideologists told people that by introducing “ most odd prejudices”, capitalists tried to distract working people from the class struggle”.
The Soviet regime considered Marxism-Leninism as the one and only world-view possible for Soviet citizens. Diversity or pluralism in one’s ideological stance was seen as an unforgivable sin.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of ‘perestroika’ encouraged what was termed ‘glasnost’ – freedom of speech, thought, press and pluralism of ideas. All ideological bans were lifted in 1989. And immediately newspapers were flooded with astrological stuff.
How were you, personally, introduced to astrology?
Ironically, the first sparkle of astrological knowledge came from the state TV. In December 1977, Channel 1 broadcast a program about how different nations celebrated New Year. The correspondent from Japan had a story about the South–East Asian Calendar with its Year Signs. The year of Horse (1978) was coming… Something clicked in my mind. I wrote down the names of the animals that constitute the traditional Asian Calendar. Somehow I got a feeling that this 12-year cycle might serve as a key to the broader dimensions of meaning. In 1980 – still with zero knowledge of European astrology – I tried to apply my findings to everyday life (compatibility issues mostly). On one blessed day that year my sister-in-law who lived in a faraway town visited us and got impressed by my pursuit. She told me confidentially that she had heard about an underground group that had regular meetings in the suburbs of Moscow. In late 1982 I became a member of this group.
Back in 1982 we studied astrology under a veil of secrecy that made the whole atmosphere unforgettable. We observed strict conspiracy and constantly tried to figure out who is a KGB agent among us.
So astrology was still banned by the state at that time; what effect did that have?
We studied the subject under a veil of secrecy that made the whole atmosphere unforgettable. The apples on the other side of the wall are always the sweetest. We observed strict conspiracy and constantly tried to figure out who is a KGB agent among us. (This is the theme for a separate monograph…!)
Did you ever hear of anyone who was punished by the authorities for practicing astrology? And if so, what happened to them?
As you may guess, a totalitarian state has plenty of opportunities to instill its world-view into the minds of the people. Every child in the Soviet Union was brought up in a full confidence that even a small deviation from THE–ONLY-TRUE-IDEOLOGY meant nothing but a kind of mental disease. In the USSR, psychiatry was a routine instrument for fighting ideological heresy. There are still ‘scientists’ in Russia who consider an interest in astrology as a symptom of schizophrenia.
In fact, a friend of mine underwent treatment for schizophrenia when, during his period of military service, it was noticed that he was reading a photocopy of an astrological book.
According to a legend that circulates among Russian astrologers, in 1929 Stalin’s government decided to rid the Soviet Union once and for all of the remaining astrologers, who still operated behind the scenes. The secret police managed to organize an astrological conference, and with most of Soviet astrology assembled in one place, they wiped it out. Participants were invited to a state-sponsored banquet, and once they boarded the bus, they were spirited away to quite a different destination – concentration camps. Hardly anybody survived.
People who are sceptical towards astrology sometimes suggest that it would soon die out if people weren’t constantly encouraged to indulge in superstitious behaviour by astrology columns in the newspapers and so on. Having lived in a society where there was no astrology, what is your perspective on this?
My own meeting with a real astrology was a true fascination of mind. I felt like a thirsty man who at last reached a lake of pure and tasty water. For the first 7-9 months I experienced a series of powerful insights that radically changed my worldview. The same or similar feelings were reportedly experienced by most of my friends/colleagues.
For me it’s obvious, that astrological knowledge is not something that is imposed from outside (by external institutions or whatever) on our minds. On the contrary, it is an inherent part of the deepest structures of our minds. I’d describe an interest in astrology as the most fundamental urge in humanity’s search to understand the world we all live in.
For me it’s obvious, that astrological knowledge is not something that is imposed from outside on our minds. On the contrary, it is an inherent part of the deepest structures of our minds. I’d describe an interest in astrology as the most fundamental urge in humanity’s search to understand the world we all live in.
What is the state of astrology in Russia now?
Though astrology is not acknowledged officially as a valid occupation yet, the common view is that astrology is one of the most credible helping professions. Given that psycho-analysts failed to win wide public acceptance in Russia, astrologers are usually considered as a natural substitute for this kind of specialist.
Just after the ban was lifted, Russia saw an immense popularity of astrology. Just a few facts: The Academy of Astrology in Moscow managed to recruit some 1,200 pupils in the course of the first year of its existence. Funnily enough, it occupied the office of the former Communist Party Ideological Institute (!). The ‘Russian Astrology’ journal (under my editorship) reached a circulation of 20,000 in 1991.
Channel N1 of state TV transmitted daily astrological forecasts that took twice as much time as the weather forecasts. We all had a feeling that newspapers gave astrology as much room as astrologers were able to utilize.
That boom is over now. However there is an astrological association in every big city of Russia. There are newsletters, conferences and books with circulations of up to 10,000.
The three main areas of astrological activity are: teaching, writing and counseling. It’s not easy to detect what kind of work is in greatest demand. My guess is that professional astrologers in this country have to cover all 3 types of activity in order to survive.
What are your, personal, interests and areas of specialism in astrology?
Basically, I percieve astrology as the Universal Language. My concern now is to refine this language and to find the most effective fields of its application and sound ways of translation to other more «primitive» languages. I see the vast areas of possible astrological application and try to introduce astrology to new stances. Particularly, I think that art criticism is one of the most promising directions of astrological pursuit.
I am fond of the rectification process. Rectifying celebrities’ charts is my ‘hobby’.
As to techniques, I am trying now to be as simple as possible. I am sure that simple and sound explanation has always advantage over complex and fuzzy one. Some 10-12 years ago, I paid tribute to ‘modern approaches’. Now after being in the field for 20 years, I am back to the core set of symbols. Asteroids, midpoints, Uranians, converse tertiary progressions, Arabic parts, and the like stuff is only employed in extraordinary cases when traditional tools deliver no satisfaction. My pupils more than often hear: if you lack something – dig deeper, never call the department store.
How would you describe your beliefs about the world?
< I believe in a Higher Intelligence and am sure that HI communicates with us using symbolic language of Astrology
My prime objective in counseling is to get my client to a higher level of self-understanding. My best sessions result in self-insight and total self-acceptance by my clients.
Are you (when you do astrology) a magician?
To some extent, yes. However, I am mostly detective and also care-giver. I love people and love to help them to solve their problems.
How is your astrological time divided up?
Consultations – approx. 40%, teaching –30%, writing, editing, translating – about 20%, researching – 10%
How do your clients first get in contact?
I have never used ads, and regard mouth-to-mouth recommendations, along with teaching, as the best ways to get clients.The latest developments put forward the Internet as a means to acquire clients.
How do you define success in your astrological work?
My most brilliant readings are usually interrupted by this sort of client’s outcry: “Now I get it all! I see the whole picture clearly!” My prime objective in counseling is to get my client to a higher level of self-understanding. My best sessions result in self-insight and total self-acceptance by my clients.
What have been the different stages of your astrological development?
Basically, there were 2 main stages: 1) an extensive stage when I broadened my awareness and uncritically accumulated new techniques; 2) an intensive stage, characterized by a selective approach and concentration on the most important issues.
Which astrologers, and which works, have mainly influenced your approach?
Dane Rudhyar and his ‘The Astrology of Personality’ as well as his other books influenced my fundamental take on astrology and spiritual development altogether. I hold in high esteem such authors as Steven Arroyo, Geoffrey Cornelius, Liz Green and Robert Hand.