Analytical, Poetic Astrology: An Interview With Joe Polise

Joe Polise, C.A. NCGR-PAA, has been an active practitioner in astrology since 1990. He is vice president of Chicago’s Friends of Astrology and Education Outreach Chair of Professional Astrologers’ Alliance, and is LFAC’s resident astrologer. Liz Baudler spoke to him in conjunction with an upcoming workshop.

Liz Baudler: How did you get interested in astrology?

Joe Polise: I’ve always been interested in philosophy, religion, mythology, different kinds of disciplines that were imaginative ways to explain our place in the universe. I was a philosophy major in college, and I did get my bachelor’s in the history of philosophy. At some point, this woman that I knew on the campus did my astrological chart and gave me a copy of The Astrologer’s Handbook by Sakoian and Acker. I was hooked after that. At the time I was getting a double major in psychology. I was looking at behaviorism, you know, where they’re doing labs where you have to count the number of pellets that fell from a machine, how many time the rat got the pellet, and at the same time getting turned onto astrology. I really wanted to learn, and the thing that was satisfying my interest in understanding more about who I was, was astrology. After that, I made up my mind very quickly that I was going to do astrology. It was unusual for a person in the late 80s. I was surrounded by business majors. My generation was a Virgo generation—very practical. But I never really wavered. I did go to grad school for English literature, but all the while I was still doing readings.

I have a personal reason for [getting involved with astrology]. I’m adopted. [Astrology] was something that really gave me a sense of—I don’t want to say all adopted people don’t have an identity, but it gave me a sense of who I was in the universal scheme of things. I’m not going to necessarily learn my lineage from it, that’s kind of a mystery to me, but who I am I in the wider cosmic scheme of themes, what’s my celestial fingerprint? I think that lack of knowing my biological history drove me into this. From there, learning how to communicate the horoscope to people, given my background in literature, English, philosophy, etc, has always been a passion of mine. How do I communicate this to individuals at a way they can understand it, at their level, that will help them? Astrology can help you identify your strengths and your talents as well as the hurdles that you face. I see that as a tool to help us on our life journey. The birth chart is much like a roadmap that you’re given at birth that shows you the ins and outs, the hills and valleys of your life.

LB: This is billed as a beginning class: why is it good for someone who’s not as familiar with astrology?

JP: It’s a one-day intensive introduction or re-introduction—you could have taken some astrological classes in the past. I called this one “The Language of Astrology” not so much because I’m going to be hammering into people’s heads the meaning of the zodiac, the 12 signs, the planets, the energies of the universe, or the solar system, all of the astrological basics, but I really did want to communicate “what do these terms mean?” There will be in this workshop some guided visualization as a way to connect intuitively with astrology from a right-brained level as well as from a left-brained, memorization or keyword level that basic astrology is usually taught through. We’re just looking at what are signs, what are planets, what are the houses, but not in a way that I’m trying to cram all that information into their brains in eight hours. We’re going to be working in their birth charts in a creative way as I unpack the language that we use in the field. I want to bring more creative, imaginative play into it.

LB: It does seem like astrology has a very left-brained aspect to it.

JP: Oh, yes. One of the things that is very important in studying astrology is to understand planetary cycles, the movement of the planets, which are astronomical, and have mathematical regularity, and to understand how horoscope or a birth chart and a map of your life is projected. At the very basis of that is spherical trigonometry, because you’re looking at the relationship between the earth and the solar system, and then creating a mathematical model of that relationship for both charts. So astrology is based upon astronomy and mathematics. That’s very left-brain. But the way in which we understand and communicate it is extremely right-brained and extremely poetic. There’s no other discipline that can bring what astrology does. It can be satisfying to someone who’s extremely analytical, and left-brain, and someone who comes from a more poetic or imaginative approach. It combines both in a very unique and special way, and that’s what makes it such a great discipline.

The math does scare people, but it’s actually very simple. You don’t need to know more than your basic multiplication, addition, subtraction, you just have to be able to follow the logic, in terms of a birth chart construction. That’s kind of fallen by the wayside though, since now we have computers. There are programs on the internet and programs that you can buy, professional astrological software programs that will provide you anything that you need, a basic horoscope to forecasting tools and techniques such as progressed horoscopes or transits. But it is always good to know the foundation of what you’re doing, and that’s what stressed in the early part of astrological education as far certification goes or any really serious program in astrology. It gives you grounding and it makes you a better astrologer to know what you’re working with.

LB: Because of computers, is there is more of a focus on the interpretation of the chart rather than making the chart itself?

JP: Yes, and I think that’s the way it should be. There should be more of a focus on this means to us. I mean, of course it’s a tool that we need to use, [so] there should always be more of an emphasis on communication. In addition to being a teacher I’m an astrological consultant where I see people and I talk to them about their current patterns and where they’re at. That’s forecasting. The challenge of that is to not talk in a bunch of lingo or jargon. If you’re an astrologer, you’re a lot like a doctor. People come to you when there’s something wrong, usually. They want to know, “what’s going on and when am I going to move out of it? What’s happening here?” If you sit there and just explain in technical terms, like a doctor saying, “there’s a problem with your left aortic ventricle and blah blah blah,” then people don’t get that, they don’t want to hear it. They want to know the cure, and specifically with astrology we may not be able to offer a cure. I know there are some palliative, or remedial measures that we can work with for certain, say, difficult planetary combinations you have going on. That’s a long tradition—how do we make this better—but any good astrologer can tell a person when it started, how long it’s going to last, and when it’s going to end. It’s the timing that’s important, and this is where astrology is second to none. A lot of psychotherapists and psychiatrists use astrology in secret or as an adjunct to their more mainstream practice. It’s the only thing that can give you the time. It can explain the archetypes, the energies behind a situation, and also give you a beginning, middle and end.

LB: Is there more than one theory or interpretation of astrology?

JP: There are many ways to approach astrology. There’s a more scientific contingent trying to explain what’s the mechanism that makes astrology work in terms of empirical science. That has somewhat of a tradition, especially in the 20th century, [to] take statistics, on the one hand, and use that as a tool to explain how astrology works. A notable figure in that respect would be someone like Michel Gaquelin, who performed a statistical study of how certain planets correlate to professions. He was able to replicate his study on planets and professions in a statistically significant manner. And then there’s an aspect—this is the group that I fall into— [that believes] astrology is more akin to divination. It’s really more quasi-religious than scientific. We’ve got this mathematical, astronomical, foundation that we use as a tool and also as part of our lingua franca, but at the same time, what we’re doing when we do astrology is ask, “what are the Gods up to in our lives?” The idea of astrology as divination is something more of a side component, something that we don’t necessarily or can’t necessarily put our finger on. It’s more psychic or intuitive rather than rational. You can break it down into left brain vs. right brain, Aristotelian vs. Platonic if you want to go with philosophical terms. I’m definitely of the platonic, right-brain, divination camp all the way.

LB: What other experiences have you had with astrology or education?

JP: About 1996, I got involved with a local chapter of the National Council on Geocosmic Research, at the National Astrology organization. That was very pivotal in my development as a student and a professional astrologer. They have a certification program, the NCGR and that’s what I started studying for in my certification exam. I did get my Level Four certification in 1998, and then I got involved on an official and a professional level on the education committee, so I also help other people get tested for the astrology exam, here and nationally. I was even part of the committee that rewrote the original exam and updated it in the early 2000s.That’s been a very important part of my development. I believe in education. Astrologers and astrology are pretty much discriminated against in mainstream academia. The astrological worldview is not accepted by the reigning scientific paradigm.

There have been times I’ve been tempted to say, maybe I should move on into something else. There’s a lot of ups and downs being an astrologer: professional, financial, and social. But I won’t, because I really feel that it’s important for us to have alternatives in terms of our education, in terms of our inquiry, and astrology is a very vital part of that. It is so rich, so multifaceted, in what it can explain to you about yourself and the world and your relationships and everything, from history to politics, etc. For [astrologers] not to have a platform in the world, even if it is marginalized, would be a disgrace. That kind of drives me to stay involved, to continue on with teaching and education, which I feel is my number one priority in astrology.

Sometimes at different points in your life, you think, “Why am I doing this? This doesn’t relate to anything else that I want to be or have done in the past.” I was working for two years as a group organizer, community organizer and workshop leader for a Christian organization doing outreach in the Chicago Public Schools. They had a little mini-mass before work everyday, and I’ve got my astrology books and my magic books in my bag, but the experience I had working with people of all different backgrounds, organizing groups, thinking on my feet, really came in handy later on when I started doing lectures and workshops and conferences in astrology. It makes me think that there’s a certain purpose for everything that you do and get involved with in your life. You just might not be able to see it at the time.

LB: Going back to your teaching, what do you enjoy about teaching beginners?

JP: I love working with beginners. At LFAC, I’ve been doing more advanced classes in technique. I was running a series on astrological forecasting that I’m going to continue to do this year, but I have about three different beginners classes that are going at any one time, or private students. It’s the only way to keep astrology alive on the grassroots level. We’re not academically recognized, so it’s up to us as individual teachers, reaching out whether in-person or online, to keep the flame alive. Many beginners have such a great enthusiasm for it that they keep my enthusiasm going too, which is very important.

Astrology has always been an oral discipline communicated from teacher to student. That’s the way it’s still done in India, for instance, which has a very long and even socially sanctioned astrological tradition, because it’s involved with their religion. It’s an oral tradition passed down from father to son, but in the West, where we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, our tradition always hasn’t been so protected. After the Middle Ages: in the Enlightenment, the whole tradition was torn apart. We’re just putting it back together again.[The Enlightenment] is where all of this prejudice begins, the whole idea that we have to a mechanism to explain everything, and that this mechanism has to be based in causality. This is where astrology falls down: the whole idea planets thousands of miles away from us have some sort of effect on us. But the inner cosmos is the same as the outer: it’s all one whole field, there’s one sense of a connecting movement. What’s happening out there is happening inside of us. There’s no separation. This is what’s being validated or being explored by astrologers who are using ideas and metaphors from, say quantum mechanics. That’s another thing that’s coming into the picture; it’s a very exciting field.

[But] it all starts with the beginners, and you know a lot more than you think you know. You don’t see a lot of teeny-boppers coming into an astrology class. You see people coming in at midlife, with the different crises that people go through in midlife, or people coming in pre-retirement. They’re looking at evaluating what’s happened in their life. Ultimately, the charts, the planets—it’s all about life, so the more you know about life, the better astrologer you’re going to be.

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