Sometime people write me asking for a reading, saying they want to know what their karmic lessons are in this lifetime. One gentleman wrote me saying he wanted a “straight” reading, with no attempt to frame the difficult in positive language. He referred to this article in the New York Times in which scientists have proven that humans have no free will:
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, as Einstein paraphrased it, that “a human can very well do what he wants, but cannot will what he wants.”
Einstein, among others, found that a comforting idea. “This knowledge of the non-freedom of the will protects me from losing my good humor and taking much too seriously myself and my fellow humans as acting and judging individuals,” he said.
How comforted or depressed this makes you might depend on what you mean by free will. The traditional definition is called “libertarian” or “deep” free will. It holds that humans are free moral agents whose actions are not predetermined. This school of thought says in effect that the whole chain of cause and effect in the history of the universe stops dead in its tracks as you ponder the dessert menu.
At that point, anything is possible. Whatever choice you make is unforced and could have been otherwise, but it is not random. You are responsible for any damage to your pocketbook and your arteries.
“That strikes many people as incoherent,” said Dr. Silberstein, who noted that every physical system that has been investigated has turned out to be either deterministic or random. “Both are bad news for free will,” he said. So if human actions can’t be caused and aren’t random, he said, “It must be — what — some weird magical power?”
People who believe already that humans are magic will have no problem with that.
It is this belief in magic that bridges the gap between acceptance of the mystery of the web of life and a dry skeptical view of the universe. Astrology strikes a balance between fate and free will: our birthcharts and underlying personality characteristics are predetermined, but what we do with those potentialities are our choice.
Those who believe in complete predestination, with no lessons and no purpose, are relieved of any responsibility with respect to their own life. If everything is predetermined, it doesn’t matter what choice you make at the crossroads of life. Saturn is known as the Lord of Karma, but he is also the Lord of Responsibility which reveals the linkage between the two. Karma doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it presents us with difficult situations and then asks us to make a choice whether to fall back into the instincts that keep us tied to that karma, or to decide to make different choices this time.
I call myself a “transformational” astrologer because I look at the birthchart from a more alchemical perspective. Here are the ingredients of the chart; how can we transmute them into gold? How can we take the difficulties and blocks we are given and use them to make us stronger, wiser, more attuned with the rhythms of the universe? It’s easy to sit back and say “this is my karma” and absolve yourself from any responsibility. The harder path is the one of responsibility and evolution.