Rob Hand in Oxford

Saturday August 21st 2010
This little chap is a guardian of the
chapel at Exeter College

When it comes to casting the film Rob Hand: Astrologer and Scholar, the first person they’ll call is surely Philip Seymour Hoffman. You may have seen him in Capote or The Talented Mr Ripley. He already has the voice just right, and the posture.

So imagine Seymour Hoffman looking a lot like Santa Claus but without the red suit. Then you will be able to see in your mind’s eye, the figure Hand cuts, strolling across the ancient quad at Exeter College. Short, paunchy with the gait of a sailor; his snowy hair fluffs about in the summer breeze and a stream of acolytes trails after him, each waiting to get a word with the master. He’s clearly a generous man, because he dispenses (hard-earned) wisdom with grace and without condescension.

Exeter from Turl Street

For those of you who don’t know, Rob Hand is one of the most respected astrologers alive today. He’s been at this game for 50 years or so and it shows. I’ve heard talks by a lot of astrologers in my time, and I haven’t heard anyone yet with quite his combination of compassion, erudition and practicality. He sees all the little tiny parts of the chart and still keeps a grip on the broad story – or as he would put it, scenario.

I watched him look at about eight charts this week at the Faculty of Astrological Studies Summer School, here in Oxford at Exeter College, and it was remarkable to see such a synthesis of knowledge and sensitivity.
His approach is based on a deep understanding of theory, but it’s also practical: it’s obvious he’s tested all his surmises to see if they work.

Normally, the best place to look at someone’s chart is in private. Even if the questions at first seem to be about life’s surface – work, money, holiday – inevitably deeper issues are revealed. That’s why reading a person’s chart requires love, compassion and selflessness on the part of the astrologer as well as knowledge. In psycho-babble, you need to be sure to take back your projections. So when an astrologer is doing a public reading in front of an audience, he or she has to tread carefully and yet find the truth in the chart.

In public, certain astrologers rely on the old icky sympathy. “Oh poor you, your chart is so hard…bla bla bla.” Since in general people don’t come to see an astrologer unless there is a problem, the astrologer is guaranteed to have hit some kind of spot.

A few speakers have used systems so convoluted that it’s hard to see why they have reached certain conclusions. This lack of transparency often bespeaks a lack of real worth. They blind you with jargon or mathematics or New Age quackery. The best thing to do in these cases is go home and immediately test their ideas on your own chart. If it they don’t work, file under questionable.

Unlocking a chart leads you
into the secret garden of a person’s psyche.

I’ve seen truly excellent astrologers who only look at the chart and don’t engage with the person at all. This is interesting, because often the astrologer does get the right story, and that must surely be down to intuition and good general understanding of the human condition.

The problem comes of course because of the nature of astrology itself. We’re dealing in a language of symbols, archetype and myth; all of which have to be blended into a coherent story. Now, in truth, you can usually come up with several scenarios that fit the chart. That is why you need to talk to the person to figure out which one is the right one.

So back to Mr Hand. When I had my five minutes of grace talking to him, I asked him what his favourite thing about Oxford was. He looked at me beadily for a moment. I noticed that the cleverness of his eyes was partially concealed by the thickness of his spectacles. In fact, I wondered if he was a little shy when not talking about astrology.

Blackwells,” he replied decisively.

That seemed just right for someone whose ambition is “to know everything”.

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