Book: “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body”

Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body

Daniel GolemanRichard J. Davidson

Two New York Times-bestselling authors unveil new research showing what meditation can really do for the brain.

In the last twenty years, meditation and mindfulness have gone from being kind of cool to becoming an omnipresent Band-Aid for fixing everything from your weight to your relationship to your achievement level. Unveiling here the kind of cutting-edge research that has made them giants in their fields, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson show us the truth about what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it.

Sweeping away common misconceptions and neuromythology to open readers’ eyes to the ways data has been distorted to sell mind-training methods, the authors demonstrate that beyond the pleasant states mental exercises can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting personality traits that can result. But short daily doses will not get us to the highest level of lasting positive change–even if we continue for years–without specific additions. More than sheer hours, we need smart practice, including crucial ingredients such as targeted feedback from a master teacher and a more spacious, less attached view of the self, all of which are missing in widespread versions of mind training. The authors also reveal the latest data from Davidson’s own lab that point to a new methodology for developing a broader array of mind-training methods with larger implications for how we can derive the greatest benefits from the practice.

Exciting, compelling, and grounded in new research, this is one of those rare books that has the power to change us at the deepest level.

About the author

Profile Image for Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman

Author of Emotional Intelligence and psychologist Daniel Goleman has transformed the way the world educates children, relates to family and friends, and conducts business. The Wall Street Journal ranked him one of the 10 most influential business thinkers.

Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence was on The New York Times best sellers list for a year-and-a-half. Named one of the 25 “Most Influential Business Management Books” by TIME, it has been translated into 40 languages. The Harvard Business Review called emotional intelligence (EI) “a revolutionary, paradigm-shattering idea.”

Goleman’s new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, argues that attention — a fundamental mental ability for success — has come under siege. Leadership that gets results demands a triple focus: on our inner world so we can manage ourselves; on others, for our relationships; and on the outer forces that shape our organizations and society itself.

His more recent books include The Brain and Emotional Intelligence, and Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence – Selected Writings.


Empowering Yourself with the Subconscious Mind with Friedemann Schaub

New Thinking Sep 19, 2023 Friedemann Schaub, MD, PhD, is a physician, molecular biologist, researcher, and personal development coach. He is author of The Fear and Anxiety Solution: A Breakthrough Process for Healing and Empowerment with Your Subconscious Mind and The Empowerment Solution: Six Keys to Unlocking Your Full Potential with the Subconscious Mind. His website is His YouTube channel is    / drfriedemannschaub  . Friedemann suggests ways to move past survival patterns within the subconscious mind to discover deeper love, truth, and a greater purpose. 00:00 Introduction 03:08 Stress and anxiety 06:00 Subconscious mind 17:41 Survival patterns 34:17 Soul patterns 37:42 Intuition and love 39:49 Disentanglement 42:57 Trauma 45:40 Beliefs 48:08 Conclusion Edited subtitles for this video are available in Russian, Portuguese, Italian, German, French, and Spanish. New Thinking Allowed CoHost, Emmy Vadnais, OTR/L, is an intuitive healer and health coach based in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is the author of Intuitive Development: How to Trust Your Inner Knowing for Guidance With Relationships, Health, and Spirituality. Her website is (Recorded on August 01, 2023)

8 Quotes from Machiavelli that Can Teach You about the Art of Politics and Power

#03: “Politics have no relation to morals.”

Bryan Dijkhuizen

Bryan Dijkhuizen

Published in Mind Cafe

4 days ago (

Image of Niccolò Machiavelli generated by AI (Midjourney)

In the world of politics and power, there are few names as notorious and influential as Niccolò Machiavelli.

As a diplomat and philosopher in Renaissance Italy, Machiavelli observed firsthand the ruthlessness and cunning required to gain and maintain political power.

His most famous work, “The Prince,” remains a classic treatise on leadership and has been studied by politicians, military leaders, and businesspeople for centuries.

In this article, we will explore eight quotes from Machiavelli that provide valuable insights into the art of politics and power.

1 — “The wise man does at once what the fool does finally.”

This quote from Machiavelli means that a wise person is decisive and takes action quickly, while a fool procrastinates and puts off important decisions until later.

Machiavelli believed that indecision and delay were the enemies of success and that wise leaders must be willing to take risks and make difficult choices in order to achieve their goals.

In essence, this quote emphasizes the importance of being proactive and taking action rather than waiting for circumstances to dictate your decisions.

Imagine two people are given the same task at work, but one person procrastinates and the other completes the task right away.

The procrastinator may think they are being wise by taking their time and waiting for the perfect moment, while the person who completed the task immediately may be seen as foolish for rushing into it.

However, if the deadline for the task is quickly approaching, the person who completed it right away will have more time to revise and improve their work, while the procrastinator will be scrambling to finish and may not have the opportunity to make it as good as it could have been.

In this case, the wise decision would have been to act immediately, as the foolish person did, rather than waiting until the last minute.

2 — “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

This highlights the often brutal and cutthroat nature of politics and power.

In the game of politics, promises are made to gain support and secure alliances, but as circumstances change, those promises may no longer be feasible or even desirable.

In this context, Machiavelli suggests that it is sometimes necessary to break a promise in order to achieve greater political success and maintain power.

Machiavelli’s philosophy emphasizes the importance of practicality over morality.

In his view, rulers must be willing to make difficult decisions and use whatever means necessary to achieve their goals, including the breaking of promises.

This is not to say that Machiavelli believed that rulers should be untrustworthy or deceitful, but rather that they should be shrewd and pragmatic in their approach to politics.

3 — “Politics have no relation to morals.”

Political leaders may take actions that are morally questionable or even reprehensible, but they do so in order to achieve their political goals.

For example, a political leader may lie to the public in order to gain support for a particular policy, even if they know that the policy is not in the best interest of the people.

Or they may engage in immoral or unethical behavior, such as bribery or blackmail, in order to achieve their political objectives.

According to Machiavelli, political leaders must prioritize the interests of the state and their own over personal or moral beliefs to be successful.

He believed that in politics, the end goal is always more important than the means used to achieve it, even if those means are considered unethical or immoral by others.

4 — “All armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed.”

This quote by Machiavelli means that throughout history, leaders who were able to use force and violence to achieve their goals have been successful, while those who relied on peaceful means and did not have the ability to defend themselves were often defeated or killed.

The valuable lesson here is that sometimes it is necessary to use force to protect ourselves and achieve our goals.

However, it is important to use force wisely and with good reason and not let it become the only tool we rely on.

We must also work towards finding peaceful solutions whenever possible, as violence often leads to more violence and destruction.

5 — “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”

In his view, a leader must command respect and authority to be effective. Being loved alone is not enough to maintain power and control over others.

Fear can be a powerful motivator for people to obey and follow their leader’s directives, whereas love can be fleeting and subject to change.

However, this does not necessarily mean that a leader should be cruel or unjust. Machiavelli believed that a leader must strike a balance between using fear and using love and that both can be employed effectively in different situations.

He also recognized that leaders who rely too heavily on the fear risk being despised by their subjects and losing their power in the long run.

The lesson that can be drawn from this quote is that leadership requires a delicate balance of authority and compassion.

It’s important for leaders to inspire loyalty and respect among their followers, while also maintaining a sense of control and authority to effectively lead and make tough decisions when necessary.

6 — “The ends justify the means.”

This is a moral and ethical principle that suggests that if a particular goal or outcome is important enough, any method or action taken to achieve it is justified, regardless of its ethical or moral implications.

This principle is often associated with consequentialist ethical theories, which emphasize the consequences of actions over the intentions behind them.

However, this principle has been a subject of debate among philosophers and ethicists throughout history.

Some argue that the means used to achieve an end are as important as the end itself and that using unethical or immoral means to achieve a goal undermines the very purpose of the goal.

Others argue that the principle is too simplistic and that the context and consequences of an action must be considered before determining whether the ends justify the means.

It is important to consider the ethical and moral implications of the means used to achieve a goal and to strive for outcomes that are not only desirable but also morally and ethically justifiable.

7 — “He who blinded by ambition, raises himself to a position whence he cannot mount higher, must thereafter fall with the greatest loss.”

According to Machiavelli, if a person’s ambition blinds them and they climb to a high position where they cannot rise any further, they become vulnerable to a great fall.

This is because they have become complacent and believe they have reached the pinnacle of success, but in reality, they may have overextended themselves and become vulnerable to attack or failure.

The lesson here is that ambition is good, but it should be tempered with caution and awareness of one’s limitations.

It’s important to continue striving for success, but not at the cost of becoming too comfortable or complacent in one’s position.

Someone who can balance ambition with caution and awareness is more likely to succeed in the long run.

8 — “The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”

Machiavelli’s quote about the lion and the fox is a metaphor that stresses the significance of possessing both cunning and strength.

The lion symbolizes power, while the fox represents shrewdness and intelligence. This quote emphasizes that in politics, as in nature, having only one of these qualities is insufficient for success. One must be both cunning like the fox to avoid traps and strong like the lion to deter threats.

The lesson of this quote is that having a well-rounded approach is essential when dealing with complex situations.

Being one-dimensional can leave you exposed to potential hazards or pitfalls, while being adaptable can help you navigate challenging circumstances and emerge victorious.

It emphasizes the importance of having a balance of intelligence and strength to achieve success in politics and in life.

Bryan Dijkhuizen

Written by Bryan Dijkhuizen

Editor for Mind Cafe

Dutch Writer with Natural Urge to Travel — Editor for Mind Cafe & Featured in Start it Up, Better Marketing & Better Humans —

What is Liminality?

Our World in One Word

James Cussen

James Cussen

Published in The Living Philosophy

6 days ago (

If you’re feeling lost and aimless in today’s world and you can’t figure out what really matters then you’re not alone. The usual diagnosis for this loss of meaning in life is Nihilism. But Nihilism is merely a symptom of a bigger problem. Nihilism makes it seem like the universe is broken and the only solutions are personal — whether that’s Existentialism or Stoicism, Buddhist meditation or Jungian archetypes. But the truth is simultaneously more terrifying and more of a relief. You may have never heard the term liminality before but in a weird déjà vu kind of way you know liminality because you’ve been living your whole life in it without realising.

Our entire postmodern age is defined by liminality. Looking at the the big picture of society right now you can see two major trends in meaning-making that seem to be demographically disconnected but which share the same rhizomatic rootstock.

On the one hand there are the Leftist movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Social Justice movements. The emphasis in this corner of the culture is collective: there are collective problems from bigotry, systemic racism and wealth inequality which must be dealt with collectively perhaps by revolution.

On the other hand there’s the Individualist movements which cluster around the so-called Meaning Crisis of Nihilism. Nihilism is the sense that nothing has meaning and the usual solutions offered on this side of the culture are centred on the individual who must find meaning in the ruins of our traditional value systems.

In this instalment we are going to explore the meaning of the word Liminality and its origins in anthropology; at its relationship to the Structured society of politics, laws and markets; and the three directions it attacks this Structure from. In future articles we will look at the connection between Liminality and the Meaning Crisis of Nihilism on one hand and at Liminality as the roots of the Leftist value system from social justice for racial minorities, women and LGBT+ to the critique of capitalism and the advocacy of alternative Marxist and Anarchist economic systems.

The Three Types of Communitas

In a previous instalment on the publication we explored anthropologist Victor Turner’s distinction between Structure and Antistructure. These are the yin and yang of human life. Structure is the domain of hierarchies and status, of politics, economics and the legal system. This is the solid container of society that we live inside.

Antistructure (also known as Communitas) is the yin to this yang. If Structure is the cup then Antistructure is the water of life swilling around inside. It is the domain of love and meaning — of soul and spirit. It is the actual living that takes place within the container of Structure. It’s the Jim and Pam in every office; it’s the camaraderie in the trenches — it’s what we call the human element.

Antistructure needs Structure as a container. Structure is the skeleton which enables human life. And like a skeleton Structure seems almost unchanging and eternally stable but if Structure is to be living then it must constantly be reborn. If not Structure becomes ossified. This is where Antistructure comes in. Antistructure is the force that constantly renews Structure. Our living culture is constantly updating the political, economic and legal superstructure of society. Thus society’s Structure while stable and slow changing is in fact always changing and updating over time thanks to the living force of culture.

The best analogy I know of the interplay between Structure and Antistructure is the geological analogy of tectonic plates. The tectonic plates are in constant motion. If you are standing in the middle of a tectonic plate the thing seems eternally solid and unchanging. But these tectonic plates are in a constant process of renewal — something which those at the edge of plates are all-too-aware of. Volcanoes and earthquakes are the violent manifestations of the death and rebirth of the plates.

In his work The Ritual Process Turner distinguishes between the three forms that Antistructure takes: marginality, inferiority and liminality. Each of these are a direction from which Structure is renewed by Antistructure. As Turner puts it:

“[Antistructure] breaks in through the interstices of structure, in liminality; at the edges of structure, in marginality; and from beneath structure, in inferiority.”

In the decades since Turner’s great works, the term liminality has entered the cultural consciousness. With that cultural popularity the aspects of these three have merged into a more monolithic concept of liminality. This triple nature of liminality can be mapped neatly onto the geological analogy.

The death and rebirth of the tectonic plates doesn’t happen at the centre but at the margins of the plates. And the space into which these plates die and out of which they are born is the dynamic mantle of the Earth. The mantle is the largest portion of the Earth making up 84% of the planet’s volume. The plates of the planet sit on top of the mantle and are slowly churned around the surface by its motions. Where the plates pull in opposite directions the mantle spews up new material from beneath to form more tectonic plates. In this we can see the directions of marginality and inferiority. In volcanoes — also found near the edges of plates we can see examples of liminality where the underworld bursts through weak points in the Earth’s crust.

In this instalment we’re going to look at these three heads of liminality: firstly at liminality proper, then at marginality and finally at inferiority before seeing how each of these bleeds into the others in the monolithic term of liminality.


Image via Wikimedia: Public Domain

Though Victor Turner’s anthropological work in the 1960s and 70s popularised the term liminality, this was a resuscitation and amplification of Arnold von Gennep who coined the term at the end of the 19th century.

The term liminality itself comes from the Latin limin meaning threshold. This is the same root as the word subliminal but with the threshold in that case being a psychological one where something is “sub” — i.e. below — the threshold of consciousness.

In the case of liminality however the threshold is not a psychological one. In anthropology liminality refers to a particular stage in rituals. It is crossing the threshold into an entirely new way of being like Alice going through the looking glass. These can be rituals centred on individuals like Ayahuasca ceremonies, 10-day meditation retreats or in the so-called “rites of passage” rituals of tribal and traditional peoples where the person moves from one status to another such as when a boy becomes a man, a woman becomes a mother or when a couple get married. Or they can be collective rites that mark particular points in the crop cycle like Mardi Gras, Halloween or the Ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries.

Liminality is the middle phase of these rituals. It’s the space “betwixt and between” as Turner put it. It’s the stage when the old has been dissolved but the new has yet to be born. It’s the chaotic fast-flowing river between the two stable shores. It’s a stage of pure potential when the regular Structure of society is no longer present.

In this ritualistic state of pure liminality, all of Structure’s distinctions of wealth, property and power are dissolved and so there is a flattening of all hierarchies; the initiates have no status, no property, no identity. Everyone is the same; everyone even looks the same — sometimes they wear no clothes, sometimes a uniform and sometimes they are dressed like monsters. Even sex differences dissolve; in many such rituals people are stripped of their names and men and women are all addressed by the same term. In short, everything that distinguishes us from each other in rank or status is dissolved.

This is liminality. Turner writes:

“The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae (“threshold people”) are necessarily ambiguous, since this condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space. Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial. As such, their ambiguous and indeterminate attributes are expressed by a rich variety of symbols in the many societies that ritualize social and cultural transitions. Thus, liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the wilderness, and to an eclipse of the sun or moon.”

And what emerges is something fascinating powerful and transformative. Turner notes how during liminality those undergoing the ritual together:

“tend to develop an intense comradeship and egalitarianism”

and in this space

“A mystical character is assigned to the sentiment of humankindness”

Instead of their relations being structured by their position in society — like their job, wealth or background — the relations between the initiates are spontaneous and unstructured. There is a camaraderie and a love just for the sake of it. There is a deep authenticity to this way of relating.

Among the other traits that Turner associates with Liminality are:

  • Disregard for personal appearance
  • Simplicity
  • Foolishness
  • Humility
  • Homogeneity
  • Silence
  • Sacredness and
  • Continuous reference to mystical powers

In liminality the secular status-oriented mode of being dissolves and the mystical mythic magical mindset becomes the main reality. As Turner puts it:

“if liminality is regarded as a time and place of withdrawal from normal modes of social action, it can be seen as potentially a period of scrutinization of the central values and axioms of the culture in which it occurs.”

Liminality Outside of Ritual

Image via Wikimedia: Public Domain

All of this is very interesting but if liminality simply applied to a stage in tribal rituals it wouldn’t have gained the cultural traction that it has. The reason for this stickiness of liminality is that it shows up throughout our own 21st-century culture as well — in its interstices, its cracks and its thresholds.

We can think of teenagers who have crossed the threshold out of childhood but have yet to cross the threshold into adulthood. We might also think of university students whose Dionysian lifestyle is neither the Structured authoritarian ways of school and childhood nor the Structured society of the adult workplace. There are those who are between jobs, at festivals, on gap years or travelling longer term. And we might also think of the more traditional ritual spaces like 10-day silent meditation retreats or ayahuasca ceremonies. Such ritualistic experiences are growing in popularity today — perhaps because they fulfil a growing thirst in the psyche. We might also think of the less strict cousins of these rituals like Tony Robbins’s massive events or yoga teacher training courses.

On a larger scale we can speak of liminal ages. The Hungarian Sociologist Arpad Szakolczai has written much about the idea that modernity is an era of liminality. And this makes sense if we think of liminality as being a time when old Structures break down and new ones have yet to be born. This is the meaning of Nietzsche’s declaration that God is Dead and it’s the very essence of Nihilism. Our modern world isn’t the only example of such liminality; there are many examples throughout history. In Western history we could look at the French Revolution, at Ancient Rome at the time of the Republic’s collapse or at Greece a few centuries earlier. Further east we could look at the Warring States period in 5th century BC China. This theme of liminal ages is something we will explore in greater depth in the article on Liminality and Nihilism.

What these collective and individual experiences have in common is that they all partake to a greater or less degree in the state of liminality — a state of betwixtness and betweenness as Turner put it. Most of the time we are living within the given Structure of the system. But the closer we tend towards liminality the more this Structure is dissolved for us.

And it seems that the function of this dissolution is the rebirth of the system — whether that’s an individual reorientation of our lives or a society’s reorientation. To use one of Marx’s favourite metaphors, Antistructure is the mystical insides of a cocoon where the caterpillar of the old Structure dissolves and is reborn as a butterfly. Or in the language of Jordan Peterson Maps of Meaning, Liminality is the Chaos principle out of which Order is reborn — it is the belly of the whale out of which we rescue the father which symbolises the Structural ordering of things as in the Pinocchio or Osiris stories.

Structure like the skeleton is made of strong stuff. But without the constantly renewing marrow liminality, Structure becomes dead and brittle. Without constant contact with this reanimating principle Structure becomes disconnected from this lifeforce of pure Being and in time it becomes ossified, rigid and it loses all connection to the values of Liminality — equality, spontaneity, freedom, human kindness and the mystical interconnectedness of all beings. To return to the geological analogy we might compare the dynamic tectonic system of Earth’s crust with the dead static crust of Mars’s surface.


Image via Wikimedia: Public Domain

Of course as we’ve noted above, the dynamic force of Antistructure doesn’t just break into Structure through the interstices of these transitional periods and rituals. In these liminal spaces we get a bit of time outside of regular society which gives us a vantage point from which to evaluate our lives and our society. Such betwixt and between spaces are not the only vantage points from which to look at Structure. The other great vantage points are Marginality and Inferiority.

Marginality refers to those at the edge of society. In Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual Turner writes that:

“Evolving species push back boundaries, so that it is on boundaries that creative thought must dwell. Inner space, like outer space, has boundaries, and these often prove to be the boundaries of symbolic systems.”

The marginals are those at the edges of society who are still part of the societal Structure like those zebras on the outside of the herd. The zebras in the middle of the herd live in a much more zebra-centric world. But those on the edge while still attached to the herd are also exposed to the dangers and beauty of the world in a way that their more Structured brothers and sisters at the centre of the herd do not.

It brings to mind one of our great marginals Nietzsche and his quote about the dangers and possibilities opened up by the death of God:

“Indeed, we philosophers and “free spirits .. feel, when we hear the news that “the old god is dead,” as if a new dawn shone on us; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, premonitions, expectation. At long last the horizon appears free to us again, even if it should not be bright; at long last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; perhaps there has never yet been such an ‘’open sea!’’”

The marginals see things that the rest of us don’t and it is they that steer the herd with their movements.

Nietzsche isn’t the only marginal we’ve looked at on The Living Philosophy. The ancient Greek philosophers were the archetypal image of this state of marginality. We see it in many of philosophy’s most iconic and eccentric figures like HeraclitusDiogenes and Henry David Thoreau. Or we can see it in those who founded their schools which quite suitably were at the edges of the city like Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus whose AcademyLyceum and Garden were all outside the city walls of Athens.

The marginality of philosophers is a later form of the marginality of the shaman (with an overlap in the Pre-Socratic philosophers especially Empedocles who thought himself a God). As well as shamans and philosophers there are more modern examples like the marginality of disabled individuals and immigrant communities who occupy this same peripheral ground.

Turner also talks in detail about the hippie movement as being a Antistructure-driven subculture on the margins. They opt out of society and want to reconnect with the land, their bodies and their fellow man and woman. They reject the Structures of society and go in search of something more real — they go in search of happiness and truth.

In all of these cases, the Marginals occupy the fringes. They are part of society but they exist outside the centre of the herd. This puts them in a liminal position between the ingroup of culture and the outgroups. They are neither fully us nor fully them. From this ambivalent position, the marginals have a different view on what Structure is.

This is a theme that French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari explore in depth with their concept of Minor Literature. This concept was developed in their study of Franz Kafka who was a Jewish man writing in German in Prague the capital of present-day Czech Republic. He was writing as a member of a marginal group — the Jews — in a marginal language — German — which to compound matters was not the language of his group. All of this points to an extreme marginality.

This marginality puts a great tension on the mind of the individual but it also gives a powerful perspective from the vantage point of what Richard Rohr calls “the edge of the inside”. From here the individual can see the culture from the inside but without being intoxicated by the culture’s self-mythologising. This is a uniquely powerful position — close enough to genuinely understand but far enough away to be free to criticise.


Image via Wikimedia: Public Domain

The third group are the structurally inferior — those who occupy Structure’s lower rungs.

Here we can think of children, we can think of minorities and of women especially before the Civil Rights and Feminist movements of the 20th century. The same also applies to Marx’s attention to the Proletariat and Tolstoy’s valorisation of the simple life of the peasantry.

Turner also adds conquered natives, jesters and holy fools to this category. If you think of role of the Jewish people in Ancient Rome, of the Irish under British rule, of the Aborigines in Australia and the Native Americans in North American culture there is a Structural inferiority to these peoples. There is a bias against them — having been defeated there is less respect for them.

There was a time when signs in Britain would advertise jobs with the qualifying condition that No Irish Need Apply and other signs saying No Irish No Blacks No Dogs. I noticed a similar undercurrent in Australian society where there was a gaping bias towards Aborigines by many people that I met even when the society as a whole was trying to be more politically correct. There is a similar relationship in Ireland towards the Travelling Community.

As we see in Turner however this relationship isn’t just negative. These conquered native peoples take on a mystical aura in the society. In The Ritual Process he talks about the Mbwela people who were conquered by the Ndembu and who played central roles in the rituals of the Ndembu people.

In our own history we might think of the emergence of Christianity out of the conquered Jewish people in Ancient Roman culture and of the mystical quality associated with Native Americans in North American culture and Aborigines in Australian culture. We could also argue that the modern Western prestige of Indian religions like Buddhism and Hinduism — which spread into the West in the 19th century with the work of the Theosophical Society — might have something to do with being the natives conquered by the British Empire. Looking at the history of Irish mythology I also wonder whether this might be where the Tuatha dé Danann — the divine fairy people — came from since in the old stories they were the people here before the Gaels arrived and dominated the island.

Turner also talks about the village idiot and Holy Fools as being Structurally inferior. We can think of Dostoevsky’s holy fool heroes Prince Myshkin in The Idiot and Alyosha Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov and of the prostitute Sonya in his book Crime and Punishment. And we might also think of Jesus the son of a carpenter or of his ragtag band of fisherman apostles.

And then there’s jesters who were entertainers with little status on the one hand but as we see so often in the plays of Shakespeare, the Fool could speak truth in a way that nobody else could. Their inferiority brought a liberation which enabled the outflow of Communitas values.

In each of these cases we have a Structurally inferior section of society but among whom a certain Antistructural tendency either emerges or at the very least inspires others. There is a mystical aura that attaches to those with lower Structural status which like the margins and the gaps is a place where Structure is permeable to the transformative powers of Antistructure.

Overlapping Groups

The thing about these categories of Antistructure is that they are overlapping. The marginality of the philosophers like Heraclitus or Diogenes means they are at the edges of society but originating from the higher classes there is also a liminality and inferiority to their roles — because they don’t simply fit the mould of the Structurally inferior there is a sense in which they stumble between the cracks. Heraclitus would have been king of Ephesus had he not turned his back on the role. His position as a philosophical gadfly of the city then is not simply a critique of the Structurally inferior nor is it simply the marginality of the outsider.

We might say the same of the shamanic role. Shamans live their entire lives in liminality. They have a statusless status being in the world but not of it. Like the smiths of old they were marginal magicians at the edge of the culture and this brought respect but also distance. Marginality is baked into their position.

With prostitutes like Dostoevsky’s Sonya in Crime and Punishment we can see a Structural inferiority but also a marginality — since these sex workers operate illegally and at the edges of society. There is also a degree of liminality to their place in society — a theme explored in movies like Pretty Woman.

And if we think of the position of Native Americans with respect to North American society there is a marginalisation — being at the edges of the society; a liminality — being trapped between the Structure of their own society and the Structure of this Western colonist; and finally there is an inferiority — because they are not the ones with power in society.

So these categories aren’t entirely separate and often tend to collect together.

This overlapping nature of the pure liminal, the marginal and the inferior points to a shared archetypal pattern which is captured wonderfully by the expression “the edge of the inside”. None of these groups are outsiders to the culture and yet they are not at the centre either. They are part of the herd and yet they are exposed to the worst elements of the herd and to the world beyond the herd. Thus liminality as the state of being “betwixt and between” is the basic DNA underlying these three states.

We can see how the radical politics of right-wing populism — of which Trump is the current American figurehead — derives its liminal archetypal charge from the Structural inferiority of the rural ocean of Americans in contrast to the “Rich Men North of Richmond”. Meanwhile in leftist radicalism the focus is on a different group of Structurally inferior and marginal groups which is the African-American community, the LGBTQ+ minority and women. In both cases the radicalism derives from the liminal position of the people but it leads to violently contrasting politics. The details of these groups is something we’ll be exploring in more depth in future installments.

Free Will Astrology: Week of September 21, 2023


Photo: Fidel Fernando

ARIES (March 21-April 19): So it begins: the Building and Nurturing Togetherness phase of your astrological cycle. The next eight weeks will bring excellent opportunities to shed bad relationship habits and grow good new ones. Let’s get you in the mood with some suggestions from intimacy counselors Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez: “No matter how long you’ve been together or how well you think you know each other, you still need to romance your partner, especially in stability. Don’t run off and get an extreme makeover or buy into the red-roses-and-champagne bit. Instead, try being kind, receptive and respectful. Show your partner, often and in whatever tender, goofy way you both understand, that their heart is your home.”

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): From May 2023 to May 2024, the planets Jupiter and Uranus have been and will be in Taurus. I suspect that many Taurus revolutionaries will be born during this time. And yes, Tauruses can be revolutionaries. Here’s a list of some prominent rebel Bulls: Karl Marx, Malcolm X, activist Kathleen Cleaver, lesbian feminist author Adrienne Rich, Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, artist Salvador Dali, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, and dancer Martha Graham. All were wildly original innovators who left a bold mark on their cultures. May their examples inspire you to clarify and deepen the uniquely stirring impact you would like to make, Taurus.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Gemini writer Joe Hill believes the only fight that matters is “the struggle to take the world’s chaos and make it mean something.” I can think of many other fights that matter, too, but Hill’s choice is a good one that can be both interesting and rewarding. I especially recommend it to you in the coming weeks, Gemini. You are poised at a threshold that promises substantial breakthroughs in your ongoing wrangles with confusion, ambiguity and enigma. My blessings go with you as you wade into the evocative challenges.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): Author Crescent Dragonwagon has written over fifty books, so we might conclude she has no problem expressing herself fully. But a character in one of her novels says the following: “I don’t know exactly what I mean by ‘hold something back,’ except that I do it. I don’t know what the ‘something’ is. It’s some part that’s a mystery, maybe even to me. I feel it may be my essence or what I am deep down under all the layers. But if I don’t know what it is, how can I give it or share it with someone even if I wanted to?” I bring these thoughts to your attention, Cancerian, because I believe the coming weeks will be a favorable time for you to overcome your own inclination to “hold something back.”

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): In her book “Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface,” psychologist and author Martha Manning says she is more likely to experience epiphanies in “grocery stores and laundromats, rather than in the more traditional places of reverence and prayer.” She marvels that “it’s in the most ordinary aspects of life” that she is “offered glimpses of the extraordinary.” During these breakthrough moments, “the baseline about what is good and important in my life changes.” I suspect you will be in a similar groove during the coming weeks, Leo. Are you ready to find the sacred in the mundane? Are you willing to shed your expectations of how magic occurs so you will be receptive to it when it arrives unexpectedly?

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): “These are the bad facts,” says author Fran Lebowitz. “Men have much easier lives than women. Men have the advantage. So do white people. So do rich people. So do beautiful people.” Do you agree, Virgo? I do. I’m not rich or beautiful, but I’m a white man, and I have received enormous advantages because of it. What about you? Now is a good time to tally any unearned blessings you have benefited from, give thanks for them, and atone by offering help to people who have obtained fewer favors. And if you have not received many advantages, the coming months will be an excellent time to ask for and even demand more.

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): My favorite creativity teacher is author Roger von Oech. He produced the Creative Whack Pack, a card deck with prompts to stimulate imaginative thinking. I decided to draw one such card for your use in the coming weeks. It’s titled EXAGGERATE. Here’s its advice: “Imagine a joke so funny you can’t stop laughing for a month. Paper stronger than steel. An apple the size of a hotel. A jet engine quieter than a moth beating its wings. A home-cooked dinner for 25,000 people. Try exaggerating your idea. What if it were a thousand times bigger, louder, stronger, faster and brighter?” (PS: It’s a favorable time for you to entertain brainstorms and heartstorms and soulstorms. For best results, EXAGGERATE!)

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): If you buy a bag of popcorn and cook it in your microwave oven, there are usually kernels at the bottom that fail to pop. As tasty as your snack is, you may still feel cheated by the duds. I will be bold and predict that you won’t have to deal with such duds in the near future—not in your popcorn bags and not in any other area of your life, either literally or metaphorically. You’re due for a series of experiences that are complete and thorough and fully bloomed.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): Writer George Bernard Shaw observed that new ideas and novel perspectives “often appear first as jokes and fancies, then as blasphemies and treason, then as questions open to discussion, and finally as established truths.” As you strive to get people to consider fresh approaches, Sagittarius, I advise you to skip the “blasphemies and treason” stage. If you proceed with compassion and good humor, you can go directly from “jokes and fancies” to “questions open to discussion.” But one way or another, please be a leader who initiates shifts in your favorite groups and organizations. Shake things up with panache and good humor.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Novelist and astrologer Forrest E. Fickling researched which signs are the worst and best in various activities. He discovered that Capricorns are the hardest workers, as well as the most efficient. They get a lot done, and they are expeditious about it. I suspect you will be at the peak of your ability to express these Capricornian strengths in the coming weeks. Here’s a bonus: You will also be at the height of your power to enjoy your work and be extra likely to produce good work. Take maximum advantage of this grace period!

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): The British band Oasis has sold over ninety-five million records. The first song they ever released was “Supersonic.” Guitarist Noel Gallagher wrote most of its music and lyrics in half an hour while the rest of the band was eating Chinese take-out food. I suspect you will have that kind of agile, succinct, matter-of-fact creativity in the coming days. If you are wise, you will channel it into dreaming up solutions for two of your current dilemmas. This is one time when life should be easier and more efficient than usual.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): “When sex is really, really good,” writes Piscean novelist Geoff Nicholson, “I feel as though I’m disappearing, being pulverized, so that I’m nothing, just particles of debris, smog, soot and skin floating through the air.” Hmmmm. I guess that’s one version of wonderful sex. And if you want it, you can have it in abundance during the coming weeks. But I encourage you to explore other kinds of wonderful sex, as well—like the kind that makes you feel like a genius animal or a gorgeous storm or a super-powered deity.

Homework: Spend ten minutes showering yourself with praise. Speak your accolades out loud.

Something rotten: Nazi-occupied Denmark through young eyes in Richard Kluger’s latest novel

Danish children with British and American flags, May 1945. Photo from the National Museum of Denmark via Wikimedia Commons

Something rotten: Nazi-occupied Denmark through young eyes in Richard…

Seasoned journalist explores a country’s moral quandry via historical fiction of ‘Hamlet’s Children.’


SEPTEMBER 19, 2023 (

It could be said that writer Richard Kluger has been conducting research for his new book Hamlet’s Children (Scarlet Tanager, $21) for 89 years—ever since his birth in Paterson, New Jersey on September 18, 1934. Like Terry Sayre, the novel’s primary protagonist, the Berkeley-based Pulitzer Prize-winning author was once an American youth growing up in 20th century America. Kluger spent his early years on the Upper West Side of New York, living with his mother and older brother after his parents divorced. The childhood and teenage years of his book’s main character are cast against the same historic eras, but embellished and enriched with unusual trauma and far more drama.

Kluger’s novel introduces readers to its narrator Terry, an observant 13-year-old American boy living in Virginia with his mother and suffering the random and rare attentions of his biological father. His father’s family is wealthy, distant, troubled, and wants little to do with the unmarried couple and their child. His mother’s family is far away in Denmark, a place that seems entirely remote until a voyage overseas at age eight that has him meeting his relatives and learning their sometimes-sordid, sometimes-splendidly-colorful family stories. In the summer of 1939, his mother is taken ill, and Terry is offered asylum and care in his grandparents’ home located in a small coastal town, located at one hour’s drive from Copenhagen.

Richard Kluger

Soon after Terry’s arrival in Europe, the fire-breathing dragon of Nazi Germany rises to power. World War II begins, small countries like Poland and Denmark are crushed by the onslaught of Nazi military forces, and Third Reich troops invade and occupy the land and the people. The Danes must figure out how to survive in the face of constant life-threatening situations.

Notably, Terry possesses a unique “outlier” perspective on the war, and Kluger provides his narrator with an insatiable curiosity not unlike his own. This may explain why it seems that, during a phone interview with the author, he has been writing this book for decades. It’s clear Terry and Kluger share boundless energy; intellectual interests; survival instincts; efforts to comprehend issues related to masculinity, feminism, relationships, and power; and other features common to the adolescent boys who grew into manhood during the WWII era.

Kluger has written numerous books of fiction and social history, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip MorrisSimple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality, and others.

As a journalist, he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the New York Herald Tribune, and Forbes. Later becoming executive editor at Simon and Schuster and editor in chief at Atheneum, he launched his imprint Chartreuse Books, before turning to writing books full-time. Hamlet’s Children was released in August in an original paperback edition by publisher Lucille Lang Day of Scarlet Tanager Books.

The book’s title is a mild riff taking advantage of the fictive man who is arguably the most famous Dane of all time. In a line from that Shakespearean play, Horatio says, “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.” The Danes in Hamlet’s Children (as theydid in actual history) choose “quiet resistance” to oppose the Nazis—the “something rotten” in the book is the anti-Semitism the Germans bring into Denmark’s egalitarian, peaceful society.

Kluger says his research for the book began decades ago. He was inspired by the story of how in 1943, after being warned the Nazis were about to mount a massive deportation of Danish Jews, just over 7,000 Danish Jews and roughly 700 non-Jewish family members were secretly led by ferry across the sea to safety in neutral Sweden.

“Among all the other countries invaded, they were the only ones who saved their European Jews,” he says.

“I always wanted to write about the war: the most horrific military conflict in human history,” Kluger continues. “The question was how to do a narrative that looked at a long war in a compelling way. I think it was harder because I was dealing with a sensitive subject: How did the Danes save their souls without becoming compliant with the Nazis?”

Over the course of his career, Kluger has divided his prose between non-fiction and historical fiction.

“With historical fiction, my job is to create my own world that will cause the reader to suspend disbelief. That means I can play within the rules of known events. For example in this book, there’s a comedy act with Victor Borgen that actually happened. I use that scene thereafter by having the characters who attend his act refer to it, while making points that identify with themes I’m trying to develop throughout the book.”

Kluger does deep research, but does not map out an entire book before launching into the writing process. This means characters can “swim about and change,” and facts or characters can turn up midstream. The Danish physicist Neils Bohr, whose understanding of atomic structure made him valuable to the Nazis, was one such appearance.

“I found out he was a great theoretical physicist, and was allowed by the Nazis to stay alive even though his mother was Jewish,” says Kluger. “They wanted him to help them develop the nuclear bomb. I was able to use his laboratory as a way the characters conspire to fool the Nazis.”

The moral dilemma at the heart of the novel—Denmark’s “silent protest”—damaged many Danish people’s psyche. Some suffered profound shame for not having been outwardly aggressive to the Nazi regime.

“That is the main theme of the story and starts on page one of the book,” says Kluger. “The narrator in the first scene listens to a radio broadcast and his grandfather is greatly ashamed and wounded by his country looking spineless. Yet the book deals with what a person must do if facing a firing squad. I tried to spin the whole book around that. I didn’t want to be an apologist or an antagonist. They were in a very difficult spot and it’s a parable for any country conquered and ordered to do stuff for a hated captor.”

Relationships in Hamlet’s Children mirror the dynamics of contemporary power struggles and tensions, especially those touching on sexuality and sexual identity. Asked if this was a deliberate choice to amplify relevancy for today’s reader, or simply a factual situation drawn from history, Kluger says, “Sexual tension is part of human nature. I wasn’t trying to be timely; I was appealing to basic human nature that’s gone on forever.”

Writing Terry’s Aunt Rikki, whose relationship with a powerful Nazi officer is like a chess competition waged between masters of a game in which sex is the prize, required a deft touch.

“It’s written without showing a sex scene,” says Kluger. “Instead, I show how they act as patriots on opposing sides. How do they use one another without feeling like they are raging hypocrites? Rikki was more complicated because as a woman, she risked being seen as a seducer and collaborator without a justifiable reason.”

Delving into a time before the world wide web had Kluger reflecting on today’s information-sharing landscape.

“It’s been startling to have the internet, where everyone can go online and express their opinions,” he says. “It’s dominant and universal and local news has taken a major hit. In my story, the town newspaper allowed the family and owner of the paper to know about the community. I admit, what gets sent out now, in real life, sometimes has me yelling at the computer and TV screens. How does this news that’s not even real get on 24/7? Why are less people reading books and longform journalism? I know, books are hard to read and take time and concentration. People want easy and short, and these things are complex. It’s a difficult moment in the information age.”

But not so difficult that Kluger wasn’t able to complete his next novel on the very day of his interview. Titled The Swiss Account, it is the story of someone who inherits a titular holding and isn’t certain of how to proceed. With loads of research and writing completed, Kluger was left with only one task: finding it a publisher.

Purchase Hamlet’s Children here.

The Pattern Inside the Pattern: Fractals, the Hidden Order Beneath Chaos, and the Story of the Refugee Who Revolutionized the Mathematics of Reality

By Maria Popova (

I have learned that the lines we draw to contain the infinite end up excluding more than they enfold.

I have learned that most things in life are better and more beautiful not linear but fractal. Love especially.

In a testament to Aldous Huxley’s astute insight that “all great truths are obvious truths but not all obvious truths are great truths,” the polymathic mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (November 20, 1924–October 14, 2010) observed in his most famous and most quietly radical sentence that “clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”

An obvious truth a child could tell you.

A great truth that would throw millennia of science into a fitful frenzy, sprung from a mind that dismantled the mansion of mathematics with an outsider’s tools.

The Mandelbrot set. (Illustration by Wolfgang Beyer.)

A self-described “nomad-by-choice” and “pioneer-by-necessity,” Mandelbrot believed that “the rare scholars who are nomads-by–choice are essential to the intellectual welfare of the settled disciplines.” He lived the proof with his discovery of a patterned order underlying a great many apparent irregularities in nature — a sweeping symmetry of nested self-similarities repeated recursively in what may at first read as chaos.

The revolutionary insight he arrived at while studying cotton prices in 1962 became the unremitting vector of revelation a lifetime long and aimed at infinity, beamed with equal power of illumination at everything from the geometry of broccoli florets and tree branches to the behavior of earthquakes and economic markets.

Fractal Flight by Maria Popova. Available as a print.

Mandelbrot needed a word for his discovery — for this staggering new geometry with its dazzling shapes and its dazzling perturbations of the basic intuitions of the human mind, this elegy for order composed in the new mathematical language of chaos. One winter afternoon in his early fifties, leafing through his son’s Latin dictionary, he paused at fractus — the adjective from the verb frangere, “to break.” Having survived his own early life as a Jewish refugee in Europe by metabolizing languages — his native Lithuanian, then French when his family fled to France, then English as he began his life in science — he recognized immediately the word’s echoes in the English fracture and fraction, concepts that resonated with the nature of his jagged self-replicating geometries. Out of the dead language of classical science he sculpted the vocabulary of a new sensemaking model for the living world. The word fractal was born — binominal and bilingual, both adjective and noun, the same in English and in French — and all the universe was new.

In his essay for artist Katie Holten’s lovely anthology of art and science, About Trees (public library) — trees being perhaps the most tangible and most enchanting manifestation of fractals in nature — the poetic science historian James Gleick reflects on Mandelbrot’s titanic legacy:

Mandelbrot created nothing less than a new geometry, to stand side by side with Euclid’s — a geometry to mirror not the ideal forms of thought but the real complexity of nature. He was a mathematician who was never welcomed into the fraternity… and he pretended that was fine with him… In various incarnations he taught physiology and economics. He was a nonphysicist who won the Wolf Prize in physics. The labels didn’t matter. He turns out to have belonged to the select handful of twentieth century scientists who upended, as if by flipping a switch, the way we see the world we live in.

He was the one who let us appreciate chaos in all its glory, the noisy, the wayward and the freakish, from the very small to the very large. He gave the new field of study he invented a fittingly recondite name: “fractal geometry.”

It was Gleick who, in his epoch-making 1980 book Chaos: The Making of a New Science (public library), did for the notion of fractals what Rachel Carson did for the notion of ecology, embedding it in the popular imagination both as a scientific concept and as a sensemaking mechanism for reality, lush with material for metaphors that now live in every copse of culture.

Illustration from Chaos by James Gleick.

He writes of Mandelbrot’s breakthrough:

Over and over again, the world displays a regular irregularity.


In the mind’s eye, a fractal is a way of seeing infinity.

Imagine a triangle, each of its sides one foot long. Now imagine a certain transformation — a particular, well-defined, easily repeated set of rules. Take the middle one-third of each side and attach a new triangle, identical in shape but one-third the size. The result is a star of David. Instead of three one-foot segments, the outline of this shape is now twelve four-inch segments. Instead of three points, there are six.

As you incline toward infinity and repeat this transformation over and over, adhering smaller and smaller triangles onto smaller and smaller sides, the shape becomes more and more detailed, looking more and more like the contour of an intricate perfect snowflake — but one with astonishing and mesmerizing features: a continuous contour that never intersects itself as its length increases with each recursive addition while the area bounded by it remains almost unchanged.

Plate from Wilson Bentley’s pioneering 19th-century photomicroscopy of snowflakes

If the curve were ironed out into a straight Euclidean line, its vector would reach toward the edge of the universe.

It thrills and troubles the mind to bend itself around this concept. Fractals disquieted even mathematicians. But they described a dizzying array of objects and phenomena in the real world, from clouds to capital to cauliflower.

Against Euclid by Maria Popova. Available as a print.

It took an unusual mind shaped by unusual experience — a common experience navigated by uncommon pathways — to arrive at this strange revolution. Gleick writes:

Benoit Mandelbrot is best understood as a refugee. He was born in Warsaw in 1924 to a Lithuanian Jewish family, his father a clothing wholesaler, his mother a dentist. Alert to geopolitical reality, the family moved to Paris in 1936, drawn in part by the presence of Mandelbrot’s uncle, Szolem Mandelbrojt, a mathematician. When the war came, the family stayed just ahead of the Nazis once again, abandoning everything but a few suitcases and joining the stream of refugees who clogged the roads south from Paris. They finally reached the town of Tulle.

For a while Benoit went around as an apprentice toolmaker, dangerously conspicuous by his height and his educated background. It was a time of unforgettable sights and fears, yet later he recalled little personal hardship, remembering instead the times he was befriended in Tulle and elsewhere by schoolteachers, some of them distinguished scholars, themselves stranded by the war. In all, his schooling was irregular and discontinuous. He claimed never to have learned the alphabet or, more significantly, multiplication tables past the fives. Still, he had a gift.

When Paris was liberated, he took and passed the month-long oral and written admissions examination for École Normale and École Polytechnique, despite his lack of preparation. Among other elements, the test had a vestigial examination in drawing, and Mandelbrot discovered a latent facility for copying the Venus de Milo. On the mathematical sections of the test — exercises in formal algebra and integrated analysis — he managed to hide his lack of training with the help of his geometrical intuition. He had realized that, given an analytic problem, he could almost always think of it in terms of some shape in his mind. Given a shape, he could find ways of transforming it, altering its symmetries, making it more harmonious. Often his transformations led directly to a solution of the analogous problem. In physics and chemistry, where he could not apply geometry, he got poor grades. But in mathematics, questions he could never have answered using proper techniques melted away in the face of his manipulations of shapes.

Benoit Mandelbrot as a teenager. (Photograph courtesy of Aliette Mandelbrot.)

At the heart of Mandelbrot’s mathematical revolution, this exquisite plaything of the mind, is the idea of self-similarity — a fractal curve looks exactly the same as you zoom all the way out and all the way in, across all available scales of magnification. Gleick describes the nested recursion of self-similarity as “symmetry across scale,” “pattern inside of a pattern.” In his altogether splendid Chaos, he goes on to elucidate how the Mandelbrot set, considered by many the most complex object in mathematics, became “a kind of public emblem for chaos,” confounding our most elemental ideas about simplicity and complexity, and sculpting from that pliant confusion a whole new model of the world.

Couple with the story of the Hungarian teenager who bent Euclid and equipped Einstein with the building blocks of relativity, then revisit Gleick on time travel and his beautiful reading of and reflection on Elizabeth Bishop’s ode to the nature of knowledge.

Natal Chart Reading Tips [3/3] + WEBINAR

Astro Butterfly  September 20, 2023

This is the 3rd email in the 3-email series with frequently asked questions from readers and students.

What’s really important in the natal chart?

There are variations of this question:

“Where do I start when I look at a chart?”

“What are the most important aspects?

“Do we include asteroids in aspect patterns?”

Astrology websites and mobile apps give us a loooong list of chart placements, aspects and transits. These software are designed to list every single aspect, every single transit. And when we see all these chart details listed, we assume that they all carry equal importance or significance in the chart.

They do not.

All celestial bodies influence us in some way. All minor aspects shape us to some extent. All transits trigger our chart to some extent.

But the question is – to what extent?

Where do we start when we look at a chart?

Out of all the placements, aspects, transits etc. – what’s really important?

The “BIG 3”

And to answer this question, let’s talk about the “BIG 3” – not your Sun, Moon and rising sign – but the BIG 3 of the physical world: volume, time, and space.


When it comes to planets, size matters!

The larger a planet or celestial body is (as seen from Earth) the more influential it is. That’s why the Sun and the Moon shape our personality most profoundly – they are BIG.

As a basic rule – if you can see it in the sky – the planet – then you want to pay attention to it. If you don’t see it (outer planet, asteroid, etc.) less so (at least in natal astrology, transits work a bit differently).

When you read a chart, we recommend focusing on the personal planets. These are the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus and Mars, plus the chart ruler (the planet that rules your Ascendant sign).

Giving each celestial body the same ‘weight’ in chart interpretation can lead to overwhelming, confusing messages, and even blatantly wrong chart interpretations.

So focus on these “big” planets first.

Your Sun, Moon and chart ruler will tell you 50% of the story of the chart. Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus and Mars – 80%.


Planets move at different speeds.

Slow-moving planets have longer cycles (e.g. Saturn’s cycle is 29 years, Uranus’ cycle is 84 years) – so when we have a slow-moving planetary transit, the influence of that transit is more long-lasting, for the simple fact that a slow-moving planet spends more time at the same degree of your natal chart.

Time is a relevant dimension when we look at transits (i.e. how the ongoing movements of the planets interact with the planets in your natal chart.)

If in chart reading, the big, visible planets are what we want to focus on, – when it comes to transits, it’s the slow moving planets (Jupiter, the Nodes, Saturn, Chiron, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) we want to pay attention to.


We wouldn’t have a natal chart if we didn’t have space. Space is the vast backdrop against which the planets, the Sun, the Moon, move and form patterns. Without space, there would be no coordinates.

In astrology, the coordinates of the natal chart are the 4 angles – the Ascendant, the Descendant, the Midheaven, and the IC.

The angles give us the 12 houses – and as we learned, houses are the most personal areas of our chart.

In cook book astrology, we always get descriptions for planets in signs and houses, but angles are often omitted.

Angles are the big elephant in the room. But they shouldn’t be. Angles are THE most sensitive points in our chart.

If you have a planet conjunct an angle, that planet is going to influence every aspect of your life (not only the house it sits in). It will be a core driver, shaping your personality and life path.

Similarly, a transit to an angle will trigger major events and experiences that are significant turning points in your life.

When we understand the “BIG 3” everything falls into place. Reading charts becomes easier, and our analysis more accurate – because we understand the underlying dynamics and we just “know” what to focus on.

Natal Chart Reading Tips WEBINAR

If you want to learn some “secret” chart reading tips from a professional astrologer with 30+ years of experience, join Caro for the “Natal Chart Reading Tips” webinar on Saturday, September 23rd, 2023.

We offer the “Natal Chart Reading Tips” webinar at two different time slots:

  • Option 1: September 23rd at 9:00 AM PDT / 12:00 PM EDT / 6 PM CEST (Americas and Europe)
  • Option 2: September 23rd, at 9:00 AM CEST / 5:00 PM AEST (Oceania, Asia, and Europe)

To register for the webinar, click on the link corresponding to the session that best suits you (one-click registration). You don’t have to click on both links (to avoid double booking) – just on the option that best works for you:

Option 1September 23rd at 9:00 AM PDT / 12:00 PM EDT / 6 PM CEST (Americas and Europe)

Option 2September 23rd at 9:00 AM CEST / 5:00 PM AEST (Oceania, Asia, and Europe)

See you on the call!

Caro and the Astro Butterfly team

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