Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology
Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology
The Classic Guide to Modern Astrology
by Alan Oken
Published by Ibis Press 2006
Paperback – 619 pages
This single volume is the best and most comprehensive introduction to astrology. Information is paced, easy to follow, and to assimilate. Alan demonstrates how our perceived reality is married to the heavens. He teaches the astronomy along with the astrology. This is how instruction was millennia ago; and rightly so.
Alan always has one eye focused on the substance of his subject, and one eye focused on the mind of the reader. It is obvious that he intends to elevate consciousness in the student, rather than just convey information.
When a new concept is presented, he always connects it to the preceding material. His descriptive diagrams are wonderful, especially for those who are visual learners. He uses brief case histories to illustrate every new point in chart analysis. This manner of teaching allows the reader to absorb the information, and make it their own.
“Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology” was born through combining three earlier works: “As Above so Below”, “The Horoscope: The Road and its Travelers” and “Astrology: Evolution and Revolution”. These were first published between 1973 – 1976. In 1980 they were combined into this one volume, which has remained in print, most of the time, since then. It is not possible to overestimate the magnitude of this work. Every other introductory work on astrology falls short of the benchmark set by Alan. The scope and depth of the work comes from the voice of true authority.
When these three books were combined, three sections of the third book, “Astrology: Evolution and Revolution”, were left out. The missing chapters are: The Sexual Revolution, Hindu Joytisha-Shastra, Synastry: The Art of Chart Comparison. It is worth the money to get an old copy of this work, just for these three chapters. It is available from Abe Books or Amazon. It will cost about $5 with shipping.
What makes this work different?
Three things separate Alan’s work from others, written before or since:
1) It is exceeding well-written making it easy to read. Alan majored in romance languages in college, speaks many, and teaches in several. His command of language, history, and other existing astrological materials come together with his scholarship. This work is the most comprehensive introduction to astrological concepts. And his style is as exciting as if one were reading a great novel.
2) Throughout this work, he presents astrology as directly attached to the astronomy, as well as the everyday experience of people’s lives. He describes the literal sky: constellations, planetary bodies, and geometric relationships. All of these he directly attaches to our mental, emotional, and physical experience of self and the world.
3) The study of astrology is directly linked to consciousness raising. Without being doctrinaire or “preachy”, Alan moves us, in a conversational tone, through the ocean of astrological concepts. We have time and space to digest what he offers. We move from the perceived to the hidden. At the beginning of this work, he speaks of the distinction between exoteric astrology and esoteric astrology. Their purposes and techniques are different. He encourages the mastering of exoteric astrology first, before embarking on the deeper, hidden dimensions of the field. However, he clearly intends to change our perceptions of life, ourselves, and creation. To study astrology Alan’s way changes the perceptions of who we are, what matters, and why we are here, i.e. the purpose of creation. This is, in other words, to raise consciousness. His method of instruction is straight-forward, personal, honest, and unpretentious.
How the book is organized
The book is divided into two parts, split into eight sections, and 55 chapters. There is a Forward to the 2006 edition, as well as the 1988 and 1980 editions. There are two appendices, a bibliography, and an index. The front and back material is really worth the time to read as it is so interesting.
The first part is – As Above so Below: The Language of Astrology. The second part is – The Horoscope: Tool for Self-Awareness.
In Part One we are taken into the whole psychological framework of where astrology came from, its importance, and how it applies to lives. He accomplishes this by showing how astrology relates to our general knowledge of the world. He gives some description of astrology’s different specialties, or its various branches. Part One is subdivided into three sections, containing 30 chapters.
What role astrology plays in the life of humans, astrology’s relationship to knowledge in general, and how this relates to the various branches of astrology.
His historically based description of the difference between signs and constellations is stirring. This description allows us to understand the meaning of having two zodiacs. He provides enough information to understand what we are doing without becoming too academic. He introduces the seasons and the elements before giving a detailed description of the zodiac. This is appropriate because it gives context, meaning, and purpose to the whole system.
His description for each sign of the zodiac (Aries to Pisces) is encyclopedic: he describes each sign as a constellation in the sky; the symbolism; the mythology and history; its position in the yearly cycle; its use in mundane astrology; the physiognomy and temperament; and finally the signs’ meaning in the human experience. This section is comprehensive, clear, and exciting.
He starts this section with a discussion of the astronomy of the solar system. He then shows the various dimensions of each planet. Starting with the Sun (and then the rest of the planetary hierarchy), he describes the physical anatomy of the planet; the symbolism, mythology, and history; its meaning in the Natal Horoscope; the planet’s astrological rulership; the keywords and concepts for the planet. This method of instruction gives the student of astrology always something larger to place the information.
In Part Two we are taught how to interpret a chart by first understanding the astrology and the math behind a horoscope. Next we are carried through the astrological alphabet and grammar. This is similar in flavor to the “cookbook” section of lesser works. And finally we are given a larger temporal frame-of-reference (The Great Year, The Religious Revolution) for our analysis.
Tool for Self – Awareness
(Throughout Part Two we are given exercises. The questions posed at the end of each chapter are meant to stimulate the students’ thinking along the lines of the material…this is a great aid for remembering and integrating the ideas.)
Celestial mechanics form the backdrop of astrology. This is a necessary step in one’s learning of the field. It is possible, with push of a button, to get a beautifully cast, and extremely accurate birth chart. Because of this expediency, not all students of astrology learn how to construct a horoscope. This would be akin to someone going to medical school and not taking any classes in anatomy or physiology.
Alan takes the time to explain the purpose for needing the time, date, and place of birth. He takes great pains to describe what each ingredient reveals about the nature of the native.
After exploring chart construction, Alan shows “The Geometry of the Spheres” as a way to introduce aspects. This is the next logical extension of our study, moving from the math of calculation to the math of aspect recognition.
With the aspect combinations listed in cookbook fashion, the brief descriptions are meant to teach the guiding principles behind the combinations. This has great application for those attempting to understand, and eventually synthesize a chart. The exercises throughout this section of the book are painstakingly slow. But this is important because he makes sure that anyone wishing to master the craft understands the why, and is able to be error free in performing each task.
One example of how Alan helps the student relate what they are learning back to their own lives is through the questions and optional exercises in each chapter. In Chapter 35 the Planetary Energies for instance, he takes the principle of each planet and has the person observe it in their lives. On Venus, he asks students to observe the type of people they attract, and how they share material possessions. This is a tangible way to make the symbolism real and pertinent.
Then he explains how the zodiacal principles manifest the intentions of the planets in the signs. Next he describes the pattern of houses from the Ascendant, then the meaning of each planet in a house.
The Road: Chart Erection and Interpretation
Alan’s description of time and space are the foundation for understanding chart calculation. He had made the case why learning to calculate a chart was important in the beginning of the work, gently nudging the reader to understand how the literal mechanics of the chart actually impacts the way the astrologer interprets the horoscope for his or her client.
Chapter 45 – Planetary Pictures
Case histories used to illustrate patterns in the chart are fascinating and very instructive. This is one of the few places where the book shows its age and limitations. The case histories are presented with the chart, but there is no reference to the chart data or sources for the birth time. Since the advent of Astrodatabank (started by the Church of Light matron, Lois Rodden), chart data has been rated with the source shown. It is considered the “gold standard” for chart information. However, as Anthony Louis so graphically illustrated in his article on Evangeline Adams in the last issue of “Celestial Vibes”, even Astrodatabank is way off the mark at times. Getting accurate birth data has remained a primary challenge for astrologers. I must add, Alan illustrates his key points beautifully. And the fact that he uses some data for some charts that is different than what is commonly accepted today, does not detract in the slightest from the points he is making.
In Chapters 46 and 47 he carries us, at lightning speed, through his tools for organizing chart information. He gives an interesting aside to being physically present with Ted Kennedy, and having an opportunity to observe that way he manifested physical features of his horoscope.
Next, in Chapter 48, he welcomes us into a rousing discussion of fate vs. choice. This is in part to train the mind, making it available for higher levels of discourse. This brings us to ponder basic questions of life and existence. Through this, students become more attuned to the divine plan of creation. Of course, the goal here is to be able to apply this attunement to one’s own life. This chapter develops a timely and thought-provoking series of insights.
This section has great interpretations of five public figure who demonstrate different aspects of our culture. Alan uses them to explore the various techniques he has introduced. He devotes a single chapter to each: Carl Jung, Lily Tomlin, Rajneesh, Shirley MacLaine, and Edgar Cayce.
The New Consciousness and the Cusp of the Ages
It is fitting that this section appears near the end of this work as it gives context for students to consider when looking at a chart. As always, Alan encourages us to look at the big picture, then place the particular insights within the larger frame of reference.
Chapter 54 – The Great Year gives a brief, but necessary, explanation of the meaning of the Precession of the Equinox which goes around the circle of constellations in approximately 26,000 years. So about every 2160 years, the Vernal Equinox is traveling backwards through a different constellation. Although there are many books on the subject matter, and lots of speculation by many competent astrologers, Alan’s explanations are the clearest. His insights are penetrating and closely woven into his deep understanding of history, ancient world customs, and mythology. This chapter describes the polarity of the signs and this relevance to the precession. In some detail he shows how the age of Taurus, Aries, Pisces, and Aquarius manifest. Even though he wrote this in 1975, it presents a fresh look at what we experience in our culture today. His discussion of the discovery of the three Trans-Saturnian planets, and major aspects between them, deepens the understanding of the process of the change in consciousness we are undergoing. This material shows how each individual chart must be interpreted within the larger context of The Great Year.
The Religious Revolution
Chapter 55 explains the changes in our relationship to religious life. Alan shows the historical roots of what we are going through as a culture now. Although this chapter is built on the shoulders of what is examined in earlier chapters, it is peppered with personal insights from his life in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a joy to read how the Catholic Church had morphed and changed since Vatican II. There are reasonable explanations behind the excesses of the Hindu swamis that have come to the west. His insights into historical role that Judaism has played in world culture is informative. How other religions have fared during the last few centuries helps us better understand the spiritual aspirations of today.
Appendix I – Fixed Stars
This is the best and most practical introduction to fixed stars that I have seen. His historical examples made the particular fixed star come alive. He shows their usefulness.
Appendix II – Answers to Exercises
Here Alan, in his thoroughness, gives answers to the math intensive material in chapters 40 – 43.
My relationship to this book
My first acquaintance with the three books that later became this one volume, was in the mid 70’s. At the time I was trying to read every astrology book available. On first read, two things struck me about Alan’s trilogy: first, its comprehensiveness; second, the information is sequenced to purify the mind of the astrology student. In other words, to raise consciousness. This focus on the spiritual dimension came naturally by letting astrology speak for herself.
Alan and I have been friends for a long time. I have attended many of his classes, workshops, and lectures through the years. He has stayed with me in my home and given seminars to my students from around the world. He is fluent in so many languages and puts them to good use. In the middle of a talk he will stop, translate some technical point for a German student or one from Brazil, then turn back to the subject matter for everyone without missing a beat.
Getting a chance to reread this material indicated to me how much my own thoughts have matured over the last 40 years or so since first encountering it. Further, now I can appreciate how a masterpiece (which this surely is) stands the test of time. Calculating positions for the Secondary Progressed Moon, and figuring the moment aspects become exact, evoked fond memories from my early practice. Using the ACD to copy positions out of the ephemeris to calibrate, to a specific date on the calendar, is something probably no astrologer would do anymore.
I just got off Skype with Alan (he is in Lisbon now). I asked him if he was to write this book today, what would be different? He said he would eliminate the math. We talked about it. Like me, he still believes that one should understand the celestial mechanics, but there are simpler ways of achieving this today. I also asked him about the parts eliminated from his third book in the trilogy. He said that is was an editor’s decision, and he had nothing to do with it. It was probably a matter of space as the book is already quite a lengthy read.
Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology does a masterful job of serving two audiences: this work can set the beginning student on the right path, with a correct understanding of what role astrology plays within creation. When a professional astrologer reads this work, they have the opportunity to commune with one of the most fertile minds in our field.