This interview with Tom McPherson was conducted by Joan Morton in May 2015.
1: When did you first became interested in studying astrology and what sparked your interest?
When I was a pre-teen, my eldest sister provided my family with astrological insight — things she read in Linda Goodman’s classic “Sun Signs”. My father was interested in astronomy, so he would add his share to the conversations. He approached astrology playfully, but deep-down, I think he had some curiosity and even respect for the craft. As a teenager, I was drawn to the Occult section of Coles Books; among other things, I bought books on Tarot and Numerology for a while. My sister’s friend showed us “real” astrology charts. (I still have some of her hand-drawn ones.) I always loved geometry, and I wanted to figure out how to calculate these things. I bought a copy of “The Complete Canadian Home Astrologer” for $2.95, but remember putting it aside when it mentioned the need for something odd called an ephemeris. That book got packed away and long forgotten until it resurfaced when I moved to Vancouver in 1992. I went searching for an ephemeris at the Vancouver Public Library, and one of the librarians suggested I go to Banyen Books. That started it all!
2: You studied and have your Diploma, DFAstrolS, with London’s Faculty of Astrological Studies. Why did you choose this school to do your Astrological studies and how has it affected the style of astrology you practice?
In the mid 1990s, I wanted to get some formal training in astrology. I had learned a lot from reading astrology books and magazines and from attending local workshops. However, I felt like I had a good grasp of some techniques yet was totally clueless with others. I suppose that having a 3rd house ruler in Gemini in the 9th makes me very intrigued to study abroad — or, at least, by correspondence! Two local astrologers recommended the Faculty, so I signed up.
I appreciated that the Faculty’s program was developed by several astrologers, so I wasn’t getting just one person’s bias on things. I feel very fortunate to have met several Faculty tutors at summer school in Oxford; as I got to know them, I learned that each had their own preferences for house systems, forecasting techniques, etc., but they all would abide by the “Faculty sanctioned” methods, so that all students would have a solid foundation from which to grow.
3: What is the major focus of your practice as an Astrologer?
That’s a tough question. There are times when I’d love to be an astrologer in a high-school, helping students make career choices. There are times when I’d love to be working alongside medical professionals, offering suggestions on what might be the root cause of a patient’s condition. I certainly enjoy doing chart readings for clients, listening to the astrological symbolism unfold in ways I might never have imagined. And I love teaching astrology. Perhaps I don’t want to declare a “major focus” because my curiosity with astrology is so vast and changing. Is this my Mercury-Uranus conjunction (trine Jupiter) talking?
4: Your Talk to the Guild on Thurs June 11, is entitled “Local Space Astrology” – what does that mean and how does Astrology help us with our ‘local spaces’?
You’ll have to come to the Guild meeting to find out! I must say here that I stumbled upon Local Space Astrology kind of by accident. At summer school, I thought I was attending a session on astrocartography with a funky name, and then learned of this alternate way that we can use the positions of planets in reference to the horizon rather than the ecliptic. We used charts from people in the class, and it was amazing — almost magical — to see how our physical world can be so in tune with our own energetic compass.
5: OK, I have to ask! – how do Astrology and teaching piano ‘overlap’ sometimes, as you state in your Bio?
Some parents of my piano students know that I have this other career in astrology. Many have obliged my curiosity by giving me the birth info of their children. Often by looking at the sign placements of the Moon and Mercury, and aspects to those, I can get a sense of how these students might operate — i.e. Is this a student who approaches things in a rush just to get it done — perhaps a Moon in Aries with a Mercury-Jupiter square? If so, she would benefit from having an assortment of things to practice and having flexibility within the routines. Is this a student who frets over the smallest details and worries that he never gets it perfect — perhaps an abundance of Virgo energy? If so, I might suggest that he strive for accuracy in one area only and allow mistakes in other others. (By the way, it can be really fun to play the piano with gloves on. Sure, the student can get the rhythm correct, but note accuracy will be out the window.) I think knowing a little about a child’s astrological make-up can help a teacher make better choices on how to manage the lessons.
Then there is the fascinating task of studying the synastry between a specific composer and a student. Musicians do tend to gravitate towards music of certain composers, and very often it is clearly explained in the astrology. Also, knowing a bit about the charts of composers can help give a sense of who these people are as people. Yes, we can read biographies of composers, but somehow, glimpsing at the astrology can feel like entering their secret inner world.
6: Speaking of musical abilities, can you suggest what Astrologers could look for in the natal chart to denote musical aptitude?
Musical aptitude can appear in many chart signatures. I look to Mars-Neptune aspects for a sense of rhythm. A prominent Venus, especially in aspect to Neptune, can signify artistry in general. Singers often have Mercury-Venus connections, sometimes mutual receptions like Mercury in Libra with Venus in Virgo, or Mercury in Taurus with Venus in Gemini. Certainly a chart with an emphasis of 5th house planets can suggest the need for creative self-expression, and a 12th house focus can indicate heightened creative imagination. Charles Carter encouraged us to watch for the following specific degrees in a chart which may represent musical ability: 15° or 24° of the Cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn), 16° Taurus or Scorpio, and the end of Leo or Aquarius.
7: Do you have suggestions for your clients on how to overcome difficult natal aspects and/or placements?
If I have a client with a significant T-square or Grand Cross, I often remind them that such configurations are often found in charts of famous people — people who achieve something notable or who work something out to a great extent. I like to take the approach that each planet is like a god or goddess within the client, and each one has certain requirements (often indicated by the sign) in order to be happy. When a god or goddess is not happy, then there is a problem. The challenge, then, is to discover ways of operating so that every god and goddess gets what he/she wants. T-squares and Grand Crosses by nature have planets functioning at cross-purposes. If a compromise cannot be reached, then opposite energies at least need to take turns. It seems helpful for clients to know they have this inner dilemma and that they cannot favour one side (one god or goddess) at the expense of the other.
8: Do you see any value or any need for astrologers to take formal training and certification?
Let me break that into two parts:
- a) Value or need for formal training: I believe that there is indeed value in following a prescribed course of study. We can all benefit from new skills we acquire whether or not we choose to use them in our practice. The broadening of one’s knowledge of astrology can only deepen one’s involvement with the craft. I’ve followed the path of self-study at times, and although it is great for satisfying curiosity, the exposure to certain topics can be limited, and one can easily venture off on tangents and lose sight of the intended goal.
- b) Value or need for certification: From a business point of view, certification from a reputable program of astrology is indeed valuable. These days, anyone can call themselves an astrologer, advertise as such, and collect money from people. But having some kind of credential sets you apart from others and informs the public that you are serious about your work.
9: What inspires you to continue as an Astrologer?
Astrology is a lifelong journey and I love learning. I have met people who come from various walks of life who study this craft, and I must say that they are truly a colourful bunch. They are some of the most highly-intelligent, caring, and quirky individuals that I have ever met. Astrology for me is also a spiritual practice. I feel deep reverence for the Universe as a result, and my life is enriched.
10: What aspect or pattern in your chart do you find most challenging?
This year I have been coming to terms with my Venus-Saturn trine. Yes, I know trines are considered easy and favourable, but they can also create some challenges! I put great thought into what I purchase, I buy the best that I can afford, I take care of my possessions and expect them to last a lifetime. I still own and use my ruler from Grade 5. I still use my scientific calculator from high school. (It comes in handy for doing some chart calculations!) I still use my manual film camera (a Canon AT-1) that I bought in 1980; it is only on its third battery. This current digital age changes so radically, and so fast, and I get very frustrated when I am expected to have to replace my iPhone 3, my iMac from 2003, and my MacBook Pro from 2006, just because they are out of date. My Venus-Saturn trine cannot understand why things shouldn’t last if you take good care of them. What are we supposed to do? Compromise on quality just because things will become obsolete in a few years? For me, that doesn’t compute.
11: What aspect or pattern in your chart do you like the most or find the most helpful?
As mentioned above, I have Jupiter conjunct the IC, which trines my Mercury-Uranus conjunction. I feel somehow connected to my ancestors — that they are supporting me in whatever I do. Mercury rules both my Virgo ASC and Gemini MC, so the conjunction to Uranus makes me able to think outside the box and be independent. I like knowing that I can be a free spirit yet feel protected by my ancestors. There have been times in my life when I have taken great risks, and have done so with faith that things will be okay.
12: Is there an astrology teacher(s) and/or book(s) that have influenced you more than any other?
In my early years, I was drawn to books by Karen Hamaker-Zondag. I love her book on aspects, and I frequently refer to “The House Connection” where she explores the shift in meaning of each house ruler as it is placed in each of the twelve houses. I found out recently that Karen’s Sun is conjunct my MC — no wonder I look up to her.
I have great respect for Rob Hand’s lifetime of work, and I enjoyed getting to know him in Oxford at summer school. His “Planets In Transit” continues for me to be a down-to-earth (is there a pun in there?) guide for understanding transits.
I can listen to Melanie Reinhart speak for hours. She has such a caring and respectful approach to her client work, and I am very intrigued by her pioneering work on Chiron and the Centaurs.
I miss Robert Blaschke as I am sure many of you do. He was an excellent teacher as well as a gifted astrologer. I have several cassette tapes of his lectures and courses, and I imagine I could still learn a lot if I listened to them once more. His teaching was thorough and thoughtfully sequenced. He was an exemplary model of Virgo rising!
13: How involved are you with your chart on a daily basis?
Ironically, not really. I don’t want astrology to become a superstition, i.e. I need to get on with life and not feel held back because it might not be a good day for such-and-such. It’s funny to answer this question now, because just yesterday I said to myself, “I must be under some kind of Saturn transit these days.” I seem to be pushed and tested to see just how much I can endure. It seems that as I deal with one challenge or obligation, another one pops up that needs more attention. As it turns out, Saturn is squaring my Moon and will be for much of the year. Perfect.
14: Do you teach astrology: do you have any upcoming classes and if yes what level of astrological knowledge is required to participate?
Yes, I do teach astrology. I am especially interested in teaching beginners to set a foundation from which they can develop however they like. I have a six-week course that I can run, and am planning on doing so in the next few months. Also, on July 25 this summer, Alison Price and I are running a workshop on Relationships at the Vancouver Public Library. This workshop is for intermediate to advanced students. Information is on my website: vancouverastrology.com