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Astrologer meets client
Tricks of the trade

Jacques Halbronn

An abridged translation of L'astrologue face a son client: les ficelles du metier
2nd edition, Editions de la Grande Conjunction, Paris 1995.

Abstract -- The present emphasis on tradition, techniques, and speculation, should be reduced in favour of making astrologers more aware of what happens during a chart reading. Astrologers should not be deceived by the apparent success of their experiences. Such success is due not to any inherent truth in astrology but to their strategies and tricks of the trade, or what scientific researchers would call artifacts. We should avoid training astrologers who become entrapped by bad habits. Article is illustrated with ten cartoons.

This work is about astrological consultation and tricks of the trade. For you, astrology may now lose its magic. But astrological consultation is more a massage of the client's ego than a message from the stars. Tricks of the trade are necessary to keep the client happy.

There are three parts -- the underlying astronomy, astrology as knowledge, and the consultation itself -- with a postscript on teaching. The text is addressed to astrologers and students of astrology. Ten cartoons drawn by Larissa Halbronn to my captions illustrate the key issues.

Cartoon 1 1
Client: I have a life without meaning.
I need a model I can identify with.

Astrologer: I have a model that does
not correspond to anything. I need the
experience of life to give it meaning.

1. The underlying astronomy
Astrology as divination could have developed without the stars. But as an organised "speech encyclopedia" it had to have an organised structure based on astronomy, which continues today. But what men say does not have a source in the stars. Astrology merely imposes a cosmic dimension on what is happening. An astrological speech introduces the stars via the birth chart into an environment in which they are normally absent.

The birth chart is both your badge of authority and a necessary component of astrological speech. Today this trick of the trade is calculated by computer, which avoids your becoming too emotional about it. It also makes you look erudite in a field that is not strictly astrological. The jargon, the cabalistic signs on paper, its actual validity, none of these matter provided the client is led to believe that the service you provide depends on the care you have taken in preparing his birth chart.

If necessary you must of course display your knowledge of astronomy, even though this is mere rhetoric, for you are not concerned with astronomy as a science, only with astronomy as something to distinguish you from the fortune-teller. What matters is your public image, what the client perceives. Without astronomy, the astrologer is naked. You are purveying a reassuring well-regulated universe whose truth is good or bad to hear, a parallel world that your client wants to be truer than the real world.

An important part of the trick is your attitude to astrology. You must understand that astrology is a means of communication, not a source of knowledge. The chart tells you only that your client shows an interest in astrology and is open to any speech that pretends to be based on astrology. So the important thing is not your ability to read charts but your ability to exploit this interest. You must understand why people want to believe that such an irrational tool can allow a certain psychic intimacy. Your aim is to be trusted by your client as an astrologer. As we explain below, there are many more tricks for achieving this.

Cartoon 2 2
I have spent 3 hours on this chart. I know
this person as if I had known her forever.

Who cares if what he says is true or not
-- I just love the way he talks about me.
Such intimacy! I could almost believe it!

The need for precision
Nowadays the computer has made astrology calculations accessible even to those unable to add up a grocery list. This precision is a valuable trick. It provides a focus to distract the client from more serious deficiencies. It is a little powder around the eyes necessary to maintain credibility.

Another trick is to discuss the precision of time, the nature of time zones, and so on, in front of your client so that he smells confidence in your abilities. For example you need to point out that although France for one century had only one time zone except during the Occupation, the hour in Strasbourg in the east is not the same as the hour in Brest in the west. The task of finding the "true" hour hidden under time zones, daylight savings, and other compromises is highly symbolic for the client, who sees this as further reinforcement of your abilities. Of course the more books you can consult the better for your image.

Customer satisfaction is further improved by your finally managing to complete his cosmic portrait. Even though it is not yet interpreted, the fact that it is now known is already a moment of philosophical significance and a great psychic relief. It prompts the client to see you as an all-knowing astrologer even if you have no skills.

The freedom to manoeuvre
Until now, the trick has been to emphasise precision. You now tackle the question of combining the various factors. You stress that there are many factors to choose from and many ways they can be combined, so the reading of a topic can vary from one astrologer to another, and also, for the same topic, from one client to another. The tricks here are numerous.

For example you can make it known that house position is not as simple as sign position. Not only are there differences between house systems, it is generally allowed that a house influence can extend beyond its cusp. Against this sudden imprecision you can mention that aspects are not a concept invented by astrologers. They can be found during centuries in the treatises of astronomy, where they make it possible to locate one star compared to another. And so on.

Your freedom to manoeuvre allows you to configure the topic to your advantage without letting the client know, because you have the privilege of "forgetting" to interpret any particular factor. This trick is especially valuable. It is normal to use it constantly.

Cartoon 3 3
Please sir, just tell me, which
astrologer is suitable for me?

Her question is OK. But which
method should I use to answer it?
(He can use stars, clairvoyance,
tarot, I Ching, dice, hands...)

2. Astrology as knowledge
Here we enter the scientific field where our message is addressed to astrologers who wish to avoid mystical interpretations.

Clients want to know what parts of astrology are reliable. Some astrologers believe this cannot be known because astrology cannot pass systematic examination. Some even think it necessary to inform their clients of this. We disagree. We think you should behave as if you had extraordinary knowledge along with your astronomical and mathematical luggage.

The trick here is to use whatever reliable knowledge you have, supplanted by the panoply of astrology. Here a planetary typology is useful because it looks rigorous and scientific, and need not be based on the birth chart. You merely identify the planet that best matches the client.

For example, if you reformulate the findings of Michel Gauquelin, you can allocate Saturn to the organiser, Moon to the artist, Jupiter to the leader, and Mars to the controller. Or you can simply rely on current language, where Mars people are martial, Jupiter people are jovial, and so on. Or you can match planets to age, where faster planets are the first part of life, and slower planets the second.

This matching of planets to what is already known is an infinitely better trick than using signs, which have the defect of not satisfying tests of validity. Better to use something that cannot fail than use something devoid of any utility except that your client knows about it. It is also better to present as specific for your client that which applies to everybody, since this will spare his ego.

Cartoon 4 4
With your Mars retrograde in Gemini
it is normal for you to have problems
in communication.

I don't understand a word but it seems
very exact.

Signs and houses
Signs and planets are well known to the cultivated layman, but houses make sense only to the initiate. For example why should the 8th house of death be above the horizon? Nevertheless houses are an indispensable trick because they allow a whole range of activities to be mentioned when no particular question is asked, thus reinforcing your claim to extraordinary knowledge.

Despite what we said above, the client often requires you to say more about signs. But once again this can be done without approaching the birth chart. Thus the sign can be seen as the need for membership, not for individuality, which is the birth chart itself. That is to say, as a model to be followed rather than a reality to be explored. In astrology you have to be pragmatic.

The act to expect
Astrology as we conceive it must evacuate a great part of its traditional postulates. This means that you should not explain your working methods because your model may then seem too general and too simple. Your claim to extraordinary knowledge will be eroded.

We must always distinguish between nature and nurture. To us the birth chart cannot be a viable scientific reference even if it remains an excellent focus for conversation. Nevertheless you will locate your client within the cosmic framework, which will require the various indications to be combined so that individually they disappear, leading to a Harlequin suit, a costume made up of all the individual colours.

But here we leave the scientist for the artist, for you have an embarrassment of tricks for mixing the colours and making them gleam in front of your client. It is a question of alluring the client with a drop of Bull, a slice of Lion, a pinch of Capricorn. The cocktail is made ready to drink.

You must explain to your interlocutor that it is never a case of Lion or Scorpion with clean characteristics. You must scramble the tracks, note the contradictions, play the subtle planetary mixtures, and choose whatever best fits the client. In this way a discreet mixing will enable you to avoid the reproach of uniformity and generality.

Cartoon 5 5
Please drink this little cocktail of planets
and zodiac made specially for you, which
nobody has tasted before.

This is a nice change from tested mass
production. It is good to absorb something
special once a year. But if it has not been
tested how can it be trusted?

3. The astrological consultation
Here we arrive at the final stage, the intelligent management of astrology. Our first two parts are frankly not useful enough to provide the consultation your client awaits, even though they contain the tricks needed to confer a certain legitimacy on your actions. What matters now is your ability to engage personally with your client while preserving your horoscopic frontage. You have to avoid appearing too general and not specific enough, yet you want to focus on overall truth rather than individual truth since it is much easier and safer.

The astrologer is not a soothsayer even if perceived to be one by the client, regardless of what you say. So it is at the same time necessary to be and not to be. You need to be an actor who acts in accordance with the popular image of the astrological profession, one that promotes divination, while strenuously avoiding it. A true dilemma!

Cartoon 6 6
I am using this lady to test my
new theory of Jupiter transits.

What I like about astrology is that
it never changes over the centuries.

Astrology as language
Of course you have to learn a certain astrological language, but only as a foreign language is learned. It is not itself truth, only a means to be better heard by your client, a means of saying the same things differently for better or worse. To release yourself from a certain intellectual terrorism, you have to speak astrology but not think astrology.

You have to say more than can be seen in the birth chart, but in such a way that the customer has the feeling of being in good hands, as when calling a client martial or jovial, even when this does not correspond to anything in the birth chart. You must deform the astrological language and make it serve his impressions, so it is merely a way of saying things and ceases to be an access to a transcendental knowledge.

Do not forget that your client will read into whatever you say as if it applied only to him. So do not search for specifics but instead try general philosophies that he can build on. In this way he will know of what you speak! Do not send your client on a "great adventure"!

Cartoon 7 7
Madam, everything I tell you is
in your chart. I invent nothing.

I love people who do not blurt out
whatever is on their mind. (She does not
realise she is now a prisoner of her chart.)

Profile of the client
You should learn as much as possible about your client so you need not rely on astrology to give answers. On one side of the table is the astrologer who speaks astrology, on the other side is the client who speaks his problems. What the client wants is not astrology but relief from his problems. It is an antiseptic, if not dehumanised, situation.

In short, the client needs protection against astrology. He needs to explain his request for astrology so that you can deal with it in terms of psychology. For example some event may have happened to explain his attraction for astrology, and knowledge of the event may be more helpful than knowledge of astrology.

Profile of the astrologer
You are not there to project on to astrology your own problems or to use it as a means of personal expression. You are the priest of a religion in need of close supervision. And you need to be credible. Here certain tricks are at your disposal. First, you must admit to using certain basic methods, shared with others, before claiming any originality.

Next, you should not crush your client under a flood of words. Just because he came to you with a certain aim does not authorise you to go beyond what was wished or what was imagined, wrongly or rightly. The only thing that matters is client satisfaction. You are seen as someone with particular assets that could possibly justify confidence. You are the interlocutor of the last chance before despairing of living in the world.

Cartoon 8 8
So madam, this is your portrait when
you were born, your life story, before
society puts its imprint on you.

Alas, I have changed a lot. I'm not
Dorian Gray.

Profile of a consultation
First, make sure you can be seen to deliver what the client wants. A certain minimum behaviour is needed to persuade your client that they are dealing with traditional astrology. So receive your client surrounded by astrological symbols and complicated documents. Be warm, be smiling, and do not hurry the preliminaries. If they are well carried out, the remainder will follow easily.

Remember that the client needs the strangeness of your astronomy and mathematics and extraterrestrial links, to agree to listen to you. Just receiving the birth chart can be more decisive than its interpretation, see Part 1. But the birth chart cannot tell you about a client. At best, it merely provides a focus that allows therapy by conversation to proceed, in the same way as the idea of previous lives might do.

Another trick. The astrologer should not be as negative as his client. It is vital for you to have a positive philosophy that will cope with the client instead of leaving it to astrology. Without imposing morals on your client, you are there to reconcile him with the world of men, not to reconcile him with the stars. In fact you should here ignore astrology altogether.

So start by talking about the problems of living, its loneliness, its uncertainty, and anything else that you have found to apply generally to clients. Stress that, thanks to astrology, such problems are well encircled and solvable. Start a conversation and keep it going until feedback is occurring. That way you will know in advance what the client wants to know and what the answer should be. You do not want to be dependant on astrology.

Of course, you avoid giving this impression, and you avoid giving the impression that you have done it all before with other clients. Your client needs to feel special. Once his confidence has been obtained by your general attitude, astrology can gradually grow blurred, leaving you to focus on the feedback. Soon you and your client will be closely joined in a dialogue, and astrology can mostly be ignored except as a convenient means of changing the subject.

In this way, by excavating the past, your goal is not to prove the validity of astrology but to locate the traumas that will reinforce his interest in astrology. The unknowing client will see this as exorcising his past, leaving him free at last and very satisfied with the consultation.

Cartoon 9 9
My astrologer is going to tell me who
I am and what is going to happen, which
are things I have no idea about.

I hope she understands what I am saying
because I certainly don't.

Postscript: Teaching astrology
What of those who wish to teach? The difference between consulting and teaching is quite distinct. In consulting, the client receives information in a more or less passive way, and there is generally only one meeting. In teaching, the pupil actively wants to learn and ask questions, and there are generally many meetings. In the former the relation is with an astrologer, in the latter with astrology. In both cases it is advisable to respect a certain appearance. The teacher must thus have the same luggage as described in Part 1.

Just as the client wants the astrologer to have extraordinary knowledge, so the pupil expects astrology to solve the mysteries of Man and Life. But because astrology cannot do this, it is important to resort to pretence. You pretend that the fit between chart and person (which can always be found even if they are unrelated) is remarkable and striking. You pretend that any interpretative failure is the fault not of the stars but of the astrologer. Such pretences prove exceedingly positive for the dynamics of the course.

Astrology is mainly an imaginary science. It is a pseudo-competence resting on tricks of the trade. To us, many teachers seem dangerous, irresponsible, and unconscious of what they convey, because their personal relation with astrology is too strong. They are a fanatic of astrology. They see reality where there should be pretence, so they lack antidotes. They should revise their values and give up their naivety.

The problem is that the majority of astrologers are unable to hold such views. For twenty years we have organised conferences devoted to rebalancing their views, but with little effect. The paradox is that such rebalancing would establish their detachment and credibility. Had they been trained properly in the first place they would not have developed such bad habits.

We plead for a homeopathic low-dose astrology, whereas most astrologers give their clients and even more their pupils an extreme high dose. We should avoid training astrologers with bad habits who become trapped by situations for which they are not prepared. Astrological consultation is more a massage of the client's ego by an involved caring astrologer than an all-knowing message from the stars. What matters is the astrologer not the astrology.

Cartoon 10 10
Strikes, paralysis!
No mail, no public transport!

It's all due to Saturn!

Further reading
Alexander C. Rae. Bluff Your Way in Astrology & Fortune Telling. Revised edition, Ravette Books, West Sussex 1992. The way to instant erudition without having to know anything. Has "enough details to pass yourself off as an expert and to allow you to charge extortionate fees for your readings."

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