Towards an Astrology of Meaning and Purpose


by Candy Hillenbrand

 "The essential purpose of astrology…is not so much to tell us what we will meet on our road, as it is to suggest how to meet it — and the basic reason for the meeting. Which quality in us, which type of strength is needed to go through any specific phase of our total unfoldment as an individual person". [1]

I consider myself fortunate indeed that my very first astrology teacher, back in the early 80s, directed me straight to the work of Dane Rudhyar. Immediately prior to my initiation into the world of astrology, I had experienced the sudden and violent death of a close relative. As so often happens, this death precipitated a catapulting onto the path of seeking. I began to seek answers to the age-old questions surrounding the mysteries of life, of death, of accident, of fate. I sought understanding, and above all a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

For me, Rudhyar’s astrology in large part answered that call. Here was a tool which not only helped to bring order to the seemingly random chaos of life but here was also a sage who placed astrology within a much wider context than that of mere techniques, keyword and cookbook prescriptions, or empirical and anecdotal findings. Here was an astrology which embraced Jungian psychology, history, philosophy, Oriental wisdom, theosophy, holism, and much more. From the outset, I was both impressed and inspired by Rudhyar’s vastly synthetic and spiritual approach to astrology. Every successive astrology book I devoured offered little sustenance, nurture or inspiration in the face of Rudhyar. And as time went on, I discovered that Rudhyar’s work did not remain the same. It developed, adapted, changed and expanded throughout the course of a fifty year period in which he wrote around one thousand articles and dozens of pamphlets and books on astrology.

It is worth noting that Rudhyar was far more than just an astrologer. He was also a successful and highly acclaimed musical composer, poet, artist and visionary philosopher. All I can attempt to do, in the space of a few pages, is merely scratch the surface of a vast body of work which really needs to be read to be experienced.

It has both concerned and surprised me that recent generations of newer astrologers seem to be largely unaware of the important influence of Dane Rudhyar. In at least some astrology schools, his name is not mentioned, his books not recommended and little attempt made to award him due credit for the many innovations which we today take so much for granted.

A number of books, which use his ideas, do not acknowledge him in either their bibliographies or footnotes. Similarly, within global internet discussion groups, I have observed what appears to be a general ignorance of the contribution of Rudhyar to the astrological field, even amongst many of our leading lights. In a meeting with one of his students of my acquaintance, he is reported to have expressed the fear and concern that his work would become lost after his death. It appears, from anecdotal conversations, that throughout his life Rudhyar felt a strong sense that his work was not properly understood, even by those who were most dedicated to studying it. Today, some 13 years after his death, there are those who say that his books are too hard to read, too obfuscating, too impenetrable. Indeed there are many books containing many words, often without adequate indexes to access bite-size titbits of information, so important in any large body of work. One must sit down and carefully read Rudhyar from cover to cover, and in this fast-paced modern world many of us have little time for such luxuries.

At a superficial glance, Rudhyar does appear quite difficult to access quickly, yet contained within the many words the message can be simplified somewhat. To paraphrase (with due apologies to Rudhyar) -- the universe is a system of interpenetrating wholes within wholes within wholes. A human individual, our planet, our solar system, the galaxy -- each is a whole within a greater whole. We are each of us born with a purpose, to answer a fundamental need of the greater whole. Astrology can help us to attune to that purpose, to become more integrated personalities, to actualize our innate potentials - potentials which are contained in seed form at our births, just as the acorn contains within it the potential for the fully-grown oak. Ultimately, the purpose is to realise our connection with the greater whole and to dedicate our selves to the consecration of this greater whole, to serve humanity. This, I believe, is the basic philosophy behind Rudhyar’s work.

Rudhyar was not only instrumental in reformulating a new ‘paradigm’ for astrology, he was largely responsible for popularising astrology from the 1930s onwards through his many articles in astrology magazines, particularly American Astrology. There is even a belief in some circles that it was Rudhyar who pioneered the Sun Sign column. He restored the notion of cyclicity to astrology, popularised and developed upon the Sabian Symbols, pioneered the use of the Lunation Cycle, was the grandfather of Humanistic Astrology, is credited with being the first person to coin the term ‘transpersonal’ as far back as the 1920s,  [2] and much more. Not surprisingly perhaps, Rudhyar’s natal Sun was in the early degrees of Aries!

Early Life

Daniel Chennevierre was born on March 23rd, 1895 at 00:42 AM LMT in Paris, France. (See CHART DATA)  As a child, he suffered from severe ill health, and this was to continue throughout his life. After life threatening surgery at the age of 12 to remove his left kidney and adrenal gland, the young Daniel began to develop his mind. At 16 he passed his baccalaureate at the Sorbonne, majoring in philosophy.  [3]  He subsequently became involved in the artistic and musical climate of Paris and was heavily influenced by the radical ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. It was at this time, and shortly after his father’s death, that he had a ‘mystical’ experience or realization in which he "became intuitively aware of the cyclic nature of all existence and of the fact that our Western civilisation was coming to an "autumnal" conclusion". Ever since that time, Rudhyar later wrote, he had "sought to gain a clearer understanding of the cyclic patterns and the basic meaning of human existence".  [4]

Leyla Rael, Rudhyar’s 4th wife and partner at the time of his death, writes that Rudhyar believed that any person living at such an "autumnal" time is faced with a fundamental choice — to identify either with the decaying leaves (that which is ending) or with "the small inconspicuous seeds that hold the promise of new life in the following "spring" ".  [5]  Daniel consciously chose "seedhood" and in 1916, at the age of 21, he left his native France and travelled to "The New World" of America, leaving behind not only his country, but also his name and all associations with his family and culture of origin. He now became Dane Rudhyar. To Rudhyar, it was vital that in order to act as a "seed" man or woman in the life of a new cycle or phase of history, one must sever oneself from all past conditioning and open oneself to a basic "mutation".

Rudhyar’s guiding ideal lay in his belief in the necessity for a fundamental transformation of our civilization and his change of name was a symbolic reflection of this ideal. The name Rudhyar is derived from the Sanskrit rudra "implying dynamic action and the electrical power released during storms". In the Vedic scriptures, the God Rudra is the Destroyer and Regenerator, "the transforming energy, breaker of old molds and the power of will or vital force".  [6]

Rudhyar believed that he had a part to play in this global transformation. He felt an acute sense of purpose and destiny in this regard. The kernel embedded within his astrological work is a call "for individuals with holistic vision and a ‘humanistic’ approach to serve as the foundation of a global society".  [7]  It was not until some thirty years later, amongst the American youth of the 60s and 70s, that Rudhyar was to find fertile ground for the sowing of many of his ideas for a new and better world.

The Humanistic Approach to Astrology

In astrological terms, the development of this ideal began through his seminal book The Astrology of Personality, first published in 1936. In this book, Rudhyar attempted to reinterpret traditional astrology in a way which emphasised integration. He sought to present astrology as "a living and practical philosophy of psychological fulfilment and integration".   [8]

Rudhyar was one of the first astrologers to stress that there were no good or bad planetary positions or aspects and that crises offered opportunities for growth, quite radical notions at the time. The philosophical underpinning of this ‘must read’ book was grounded in various theosophical, psychological and philosophical works. His philosophy of holism was derived from Jan Smuts’ Holism and Evolution; his cosmology from Helena Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine and his ‘new’ depth psychological approach from the recently translated works of Carl Jung. The mimeographed astrology courses by Marc Edmund Jones awakened in him new possibilities for astrology, while the newly emerging Einsteinian physics "sparked in his mind the idea of integrating astrology and depth-psychology in terms of the holistic approach emerging in philosophy and atomic physics". [9]

When we consider that this book was written in the early 1930s, we realize what a remarkable attempt this was to not only synthesise a number of disciplines, but to attempt to formulate from this synthesis a whole new paradigm for astrology. When we read this book, it is quite clear that Rudhyar was far ahead of his time.

At this early stage, Rudhyar called his approach to astrology a "harmonic" approach. He further developed this approach in many, many books to follow, but was to later change the term to "Humanistic" or "Person Centered" astrology, in line with parallel developments in the field of Humanistic Psychology.

The term "person centered" was borrowed from humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers, who wrote Client-Centred Therapy. This represented a very necessary development of behaviouristic and Freudian psychology towards an approach which put the client at the centre of the client/practitioner relationship. This implies a belief that the client has the answers to his/her own problems, not the practitioner, again quite a revolutionary concept for many astrologers still hell-bent on predicting events for the client.

In 'traditional' astrology, and an approach still very popular today, the individual was seen as being acted upon by forces beyond his/her control. Rudhyar, however, sought to place the individual at the centre, in the sense that he acknowledged each person as a unique, self-determining and creative individual, capable of growth, freedom and personal transformation, capable of making his/her own decisions, and ultimately capable of self-transformation in honour of a greater purpose, one which extended beyond him/herself to include ever more greater wholes.

Throughout his work, Rudhyar clearly distinguishes between what he calls the traditional event-oriented approach and the humanistic approach. He asserts that all predictive methods are "a glorified form of fortune-telling", whether scientific or not. On the contrary, the humanistic astrologer "is not trying to find out "how a person ticks"….. he is not attempting to "analyze a client…Instead he seeks to act as an intermediary, a focusing agent and interpreter, whose only function is to help another person to realize himself more fully and to become a "whole person", an integrated and multifarious individual able to fulfill the essential purpose of his having been born (his individual destiny) at a particular time and in a particular social-planetary environment". [10]

According to Rudhyar, inherent within these two basic approaches to astrology is the manifestation of a fundamental difference in the attitude and world-view of its practitioners.  Rudhyar was very aware of the relativism of astrology, of the context-bound nature of interpretation, and the function of differing world-views in determining the nature of the astrology in use. These beliefs are all hallmarks of the postmodernist perspective, an approach which appears to be so rare within the astrological field, but quite popular within most other academic disciplines.

In his 1972 book Person Centered Astrology, Rudhyar outlines more fully this approach. The "I" is not outside the birthchart. The individual is not the object upon which outside forces act, as is the perception according to traditional event-oriented astrology. S/he is instead "the subject of a complex play of energies objectivised in a concrete earth-born field of activities".  [11] S/he is the wholeness of the chart, and that wholeness is fundamentally one of harmony, whether it be a dynamic or static kind of harmony, because the birth chart represents "the whole universe focussed at a particular point in space or time". [12] Insofar as each person represents a particularised and harmonious aspect of the entire universe, s/he is born in answer to the need of humanity at that time. It is the life task of the individual to answer that need: "He is what he is, because that is what is needed at this precise time. His birthchart represents the solution of this need. It is the existential formula of his total being — his signature …his SACRED NAME". [13]

Rudhyar stresses time and time again that every birth chart is the best for the particular purpose of the individual to which it refers, because "he is, in structure and function, this chart".  [14] There are no good or bad charts, no fortunate or unfortunate judgements. On the contrary, the humanistic approach is a "total Yes-saying to existence…everything is "good" in its proper place and in relation to everything else".  [15]  The task of the humanistic astrologer, he writes, is to "present to his client’s consciousness a concrete, existential picture of what the chart signifies — the tensions to be resolved as well as the special abilities, the conflicts to be harmonized, the possibilities of disintegration to be avoided, and the opportunities that can be expected for individual fulfillment. In other words, he tries to assist the client in what Carl Jung calls "the integration of the personality" — how to be a whole person". [16]

The Role of the Astrologer

An area of great concern for Rudhyar was that of the responsibility and power of the astrologer. He reminds us that our field embraces the mysterious, the incomprehensible and the occult, that our knowledge confers authority. As possessors of the knowledge of the "as-yet-incomprehensible", we must accept a heavy personal responsibility.  Rudhyar writes at length about the dangers of prediction and of the reality of the self-fulfilling prophecy. He stresses the crucial need for the astrologer to be aware of the degree to which the knowledge s/he imparts is assimilatable to the client and of the very real potential to play into a client’s fears. He questions the widespread belief on the part of so many astrologers that s/he must answer all the client’s questions. He asks us to question whether what we say to the client will aid in the process of integration or add to confusion.

The Purpose of Astrology

Rudhyar acknowledges that astrology does not provide a quick-fix shortcut to integration. Indeed, integration is a gradual process. Every astrological significator can contribute to either integration or disintegration. The task of astrology is to assist the client towards "a greater degree of integration, health and sanity" and it is in the manner of presentation of the chart factors that the responsibility of the astrologer lies. According to Rudhyar, the manner of presentation can throw an entirely new light upon any chart factor. In this new light, the chart owner is able to see him/herself more objectively, to "see himself reduced to essentials". "Underneath the confusion of his everyday existence, he comes to discern a pattern of order. All his conflicting tendencies reveal themselves as complementary components of his integral personality. He sees himself whole, in structure and function".   [17] As a technique towards achieving greater integration and realising one’s wholeness, Rudhyar’s humanistic astrology could be described perhaps as "a healing way". Indeed, this is how Rudhyar described the depth psychologies of Jung, Progoff and Assagioli, which so influenced his own work.

Rudhyar lectured and spoke at many venues throughout the United States during much of his life. He was particularly sensitive to the youth of American society, and during the 60s, he became increasingly aware that the younger generations were seeking something more than their predecessors, that the rational scientific approach held little appeal. "They were seeking a way of life in which their relationship as individuals to the universe would be given a constructive meaning. They wanted not so much to know the "how", as to realise in a new, cosmic way, the "why" of their existence. They wanted to be  made whole, and to discover how best to achieve this". [18]

Rudhyar saw that the purposive nature of depth psychology was attempting to meet this need, that in its attempt to "reveal powerful archetypes" and to evoke a "function of reconciliation", or an "image of salvation", it was in essence a "language of images rich with symbolical meaning".  [19]  This is precisely how Rudhyar perceived the essential purpose of astrology - as a symbolical language. While this may seem ‘old hat’ in many circles today, we can understand that in the 1930s, this kind of approach represented nothing short of a radical departure from the prevailing astrology of that period.

The Use of Prediction in Astrology

Rudhyar does not eschew the use of ‘predictive’ techniques, although he has much to say about how they should be used. While the birth chart is a symbol or mandala of our potential, the transits and progressions reflect the unfolding of that potential over time. Rudhyar is quite adamant that transits and progressions do not reveal what will occur in terms of events, "but the sequential steps which it would be best for us to take in order to gradually actualize our innate potential and to fulfill the purpose which is defined by our birth chart". [20]

Rudhyar refers to the event-oriented astrologer as an empiricist. While many astrologers believe there is a fundamental gulf between astrology and science, there is also a major meeting point between the two. Event-oriented astrology and the empirical sciences are both heavily concerned with predicting "what will happen when this or that factor comes together under definite conditions". And yet, Rudhyar notes that the empiricist-astrologer can rarely predict the exact nature of the events; or under precisely what circumstances they will take place; or how these events will affect the consciousness and health of the person, or the manner in which the person will respond. [21]

According to Rudhyar, any prediction must take into account the whole life of the person and must contribute to their health, development, psychological wholeness and essential welfare. He contends that the prediction of events is more often than not psychologically destructive, fostering in the client a dependence upon external advice, encouraging escapism and pandering to fears and insecurities.

"Events do not happen to us, we happen to them" is perhaps his most well known quote and is well worth remembering. Rudhyar further elaborates on this theme: "If a brick falls upon the man’s head as he walks along the street, it is the man’s responsibility. He walked into the field of the brick’s fall. He happened to the brick, because he is a conscious individual and the brick only a piece of universal nature".   [22] Further, Rudhyar maintains that what happens to us needs to happen to us. Every crisis is a challenge, and every transit or progression presents "an opportunity for transformation, expansion or purification". The main task of astrology, he writes, is to "help us to meet what comes to us through the threshold, and not that of speculating on some still remote openings of doors as yet unrecognizable". The value of astrology is to help the client to accept him/herself, and to understand what is happening, or has already happened. [23]

Interestingly, Rudhyar defines our free will as "the will not to conform to the past" [24] , or "the measure of a man’s capacity to be and act as an individual", while fate is "the measure of his dependence upon collective and generic standards as determining structures".  [25]  We each have the freedom to choose and to make creative decisions, and herein lies our free will. Rudhyar is one of the rare astrologers who has made allowance for what he calls the factor of indeterminacy, which may perhaps be likened to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle — that which cannot be determined, cannot be predicted, and cannot be known before the event. This factor of indeterminacy, he says, is our spark of divinity, and it is within this ‘divine spark’ that our freedom lies. We can choose how we respond to the conditioning factors of heredity, environment, culture, religion and so forth. We can choose how we respond to the crises which occur in our lives, and how we will respond to the opportunities which are presented to us.

Ultimately, Rudhyar says that we can transform our past, our ‘nature’, "by the introduction of a new vision, a new goal or realization…No man is absolutely free…but every man can, at crucial times of decision, transform to some extent his natural conditions by some creative response which was non-determined and essentially unpredictable until it was made". [26]

In his later books, Rudhyar moved beyond the humanistic approach to embrace what he called a transpersonal or galactic approach. The Sun is also a Star (1974), From Humanistic to Transpersonal Astrology (1975) and The Astrology of Transformation (1980) clearly outline this development from a humanistic to a transpersonal approach.

For Rudhyar, humanistic astrology is all about focussing on self-actualization or becoming a more whole and integrated person (the goal of most forms of humanistic psychology), whereas transpersonal astrology involves a dedication of that integrated self to the greater whole. The goal of Rudhyar's transpersonal astrology is not personal happiness. He saw the ultimate potential of the individual as "a transforming agent", a vehicle for "effectively focussed action" directed towards a more collective/planetary/galactic purpose. But that is another article!

" 'Individuation' should not mean only having become a 'whole person"' according to a certain style of life. It should imply freedom from the Collective and from an unconscious, compulsive bondage to the values of one’s culture… The moment such an implication is understood, a basic change begins to occur; a reorientation. It leads sooner or later to a new approach to life, and to astrology. It is such an approach that I have recently been led to emphasize…" [27]


 Birth data from the "Dane Rudhyar" pages  on  the Matrix Australia website., URL: [Asc and MC degrees confirmed by Rudhyar, Dane., in An Astrological Mandala (New York, Vintage Books, 1974) p 371]



 [1] Rudhyar, Dane.,  Person Centered Astrology  (New York, Aurora Press, 1976) p 9 (return to text)

 [2] Rowan, John.,  Ordinary Ecstasy — Humanistic Psychology in Action, 2nd Ed  (London, Routledge, 1976)  p 142 (return to text)

 [3] Biographical information from: Lewis, James R., The Astrology Encyclopaedia, (Detroit, Washington, London, Visible Ink Press, 1994)  p 458, and Rael, Leyla., The Essential Rudhyar. (Palo Alto, California, Rudhyar Institute for Transpersonal Activity, 1983)  p 1 (return to text)

 [4] Rudhyar, Dane.,  The Rhythm of Human Fulfillment  (Palo Alto, California, The Seed Center, 1973) p 8 (return to text)

 [5] Rael, L., The Essential Rudhyar , op. cit, p 1 (return to text)

 [6] Rudhyar, Dane.,  The Rhythm of Human Fulfillment, op. cit, back page. (return to text)

 [7]  ibid (return to text)

 [8 Rudhyar, Dane., The Astrology of Personality. (New York, Lucis Publishing Company, 1936)  p 6 (return to text)

 [9] Rael, L.,  The Essential Rudhyar, op. cit, pp 41-2 (return to text)

 [10] Rudhyar.,  An Astrological Mandala, op. cit, p 364 (return to text)

 [11] Rudhyar.,  Person Centered Astrology, op. cit,  p 40 (return to text)

 [12] ibid. pp 42-3 (return to text)

 [13] ibid. p 43 (return to text)

 [14] ibid. p 50 (return to text)

 [15] ibid pp 49-50 (return to text)

 [16] Rudhyar, Dane.,  From Humanistic to Transpersonal Astrology (Palo Alto, California, The Seed Center, 1975) pp 44-5 (return to text)

 [17] Rudhyar, Dane.,  The Practice of Astrology (Baltimore, Maryland, Penguin Books Inc, 1971) p 14 (return to text)

 [18] Rudhyar.,  Person Centered Astrology, op. cit,  p 8 (return to text)

 [19] ibid. pp 8-9 (return to text)

 [20] ibid, p 65 (return to text)

 [21] ibid.  pp 72-5 (return to text)

 [22] Rudhyar.,  The Practice of Astrology, op. cit, p 26 (return to text)

 [23] ibid pp 98-102 (return to text)

 [24] Rudhyar, Dane.,  The Lunation Cycle  (Berkeley & London, Shambala, 1971) pp 124-5 (return to text)

 [25] Rudhyar.,  The Practice of Astrology, op. cit, p 16 (return to text)

 [26] Rudhyar.,  The Lunation Cycle, op. cit, pp 124-5 (return to text)

 [27] Rudhyar, Dane.,  From Humanistic to Transpersonal Astrology, op. cit, inside front cover. (return to text)

Dane Rudhyar


picture from PERSON CENTRED ASTROLOGY, Dane Rudhyar, ISBN 0-943358-02-7,

Aurora Press PO BOX 573, SANTA FE NM 87504, USA.

(c) Copyright 1998 by Candy Hillenbrand

This article was first published in The FAA Journal, Vol. 29, No. 1, March 1999

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