Bournemouth, England: Wessex Astrologer, 2015. 200 pp., paper, $21.
Although nearly all of Ray Grasse’s essays in this book have previously appeared in fairly recondite publications like Dell Horoscope, The Mountain Astrologer, or this magazine, Grasse’s enough of a versatile correspondent of symbolism and star lore to have something for everyone — from professional astrologers to a person on the street. Covering everything from chakras to cinema to counseling, Grasse, a former assistant editor of Quest, seeks to uncover the power of the stars to ignite modern life with more sacredness and meaning.
Grasse does best with his longer essays, especially as they open windows into novel takes and techniques that he’s picked up over the years. In his “Astrology and the Chakras” essay, Grasse explains the system of chakric-planetary correspondences he learned from Paramahansa Yogananda’s disciples. With five case studies, Grasse shows how to put this simple system into practice. It’s fascinating fodder for better aligning yourself with your planets and your chakras. In “Tectonic Triggers: The Hidden Power of Station Points,” the author also probes how stationing planets — planets that appear to stand still between retrograding or moving direct — can have surprising, powerful resonances in someone’s life. Grasse examines the implications for each possible stationing planet with examples from the charts of celebrities and major world events. There’s also plenty of meat both for beginners and for advanced students of astrology in Grasse’s evaluations of stern Saturn’s lessons in his essay, “Saturn, the Late Bloomer: Understanding the Long-Range Dynamics of Saturn in the Horoscope.”
Fortunately, Grasse doesn’t stop with providing grounded, sage insights into technique. In “The Seven Most Common Mistakes Made by Astrologers,” he dispenses practical wisdom to practicing astrologers (and indirectly to those who visit them). He speaks frankly as a professional who’s earned his stars from the scars of well-intentioned bad practices with clients. Many should heed his wisdom here, as is true for the shorter essay, “What Goes Around Comes Around: Learning from Past Transits to Better Understand Future Trends,” that follows it.
Grasse, who is a photographer as well as an astrologer, is no less adroit when he broadens his telescopic lens to focus on culture and cinema. In two different essays, Grasse shows how cinema, cosmos, and constellations converge to reflect accurately what’s going on in the psyche of the world. Grasse scores at connecting planetary line-ups with movie premieres, like the epic traffic jam of planets in acquisitive Taurus when Citizen Kane opened in 1941.
In another two essays, he delves into the symphony of symbolic synchrony in pop music and culture as they meet in the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. In “Tuning into the Zeitgeist: Riding the Waves of Planetary Change,” Grasse uses personal anecdotes and stories of famous artists to illustrate how periods of history might impress themselves more on us than we would like to recognize. Astrology, according to Grasse, shows these lasting imprints, even as they reverberate into the distant past. Grasse broadens his excavation of how periods of time come alive in “Monsters, Mystics, and the Collective Unconscious: Planetary Cycles and the Outer Limits of the Zeitgeist.” It’s uncanny how particular planets combine to illuminate the mythical and real monsters that plague our dreams and social aspirations.
Less successful are Grasse’s essays on the coming age of Aquarius. Although the esoteric notion of the Great Ages has entered pop consciousness, Grasse glosses over the controversy, at least among astrologers, about what truly constitutes an age and the trappings associated with it, like “revolutionary” Uranus as the ruler of the sign of Aquarius. Grasse never questions the significance of Great Ages, treating them as faits accomplis rather than as a twentieth-century exposition of the classical idea of the precession of the equinoxes. These Great Ages could be a posteriori readings of history, or they could indeed provide a clearer reading into the future. Unfortunately, Grasse never bothers to determine which.
That could be because Grasse is more than just a correspondent; he’s a believer. Nevertheless, he’s much too broad-minded to be evangelical or zealous about his symbolic vision of the world. He would rather have a conversation about it, as he does in two separate interviews with critically acclaimed author-astrologers Richard Tarnas and Laurence Hillman, the son of archetypal psychologist James Hillman. We may have to wait for another book for Grasse to draw his acute critical eye to our suppositions about the philosophical underpinnings of astrology and its most hallowed beliefs. Meanwhile, in Under a Sacred Sky, we have a gem of a book that shows how astrology’s symbols streak across and illuminate our minds wherever we look.
Samuel F. Reynolds
Samuel F. Reynolds, a former skeptic, had a life-changing visit to an astrologer and has since spent twenty-five years doing charts and studying astrology. Now he consults, writes, and teaches astrology full-time.