Friday, 1 January 2016

When the question is not a question —Consultation skills in Horary practice

(Originially published in InfinityAstrological Magazine Issue 5) 
Jupiter Lai

Horary astrology is about “questions”. The chart is casted at the time when the question is fully understood by the astrologer. Before chart judgement is made, ancient astrologers remind us to check whether the figure is capable of judgement, as William Lilly writes in Christian Astrology (p.121) : 
“All the ancients that have wrote of questions do give warning to the astrologer, that before he deliver judgement he should consider whether the figure is radical and capable of judgement.” 

This is not saying whether the chart is suitable or easy to read, this is about the intention and sincerity of the querent. Bonatti in his Considerations explains : 
“The 1st consideration is on those things which move a man to pose a question (and there are three motions). The first is the motion of the soul, when someone is moved by his intention to pose a question…”  
The second consideration further says : “…he must observe this manner of asking, plainly that he ought to pray to the Lord God, from Whom every good beginning leads, and to entreat Him (with all devotion and with a contrite spirit) that it should fall to him to reach to an understanding of the truth of those things about which he intends to ask. Then with this truth, he ought to go to the astrologer with intention concerning that about which he is going to ask, and about which he proposed to ask, and the intention for which he retains in this heart for a day and a night (or more), not touched by just any motion of the mind (as sometimes many impertinent people are wont to do, as is said elsewhere). And thus He who spoke, who gave so you may seek, will add [to it] so that you may find.”

The two considerations are saying the question asked should be a burning issue to the querent, and it is essential that the question is asked with thorough thought, sincerity, honesty and clarity. 
Ancient astrologers have emphasised a lot on the radicality of the question, which is mainly based on the attitude of the querent. However, in practice, a horary consultation is the interaction between the querent and the astrologer.  How the question is asked and the intention depend on the querent, yet the astrologer could also contribute to the quality of the question—how it is phrased and understood. What role shall an astrologer play in the consultation besides giving judgement of the chart? 

In ancient texts or modern horary astrology books, cases are given with clear and direct questions followed by the analysis of the charts. Nevertheless, in real-life practice, astrologers may encounter situations that the querents are not giving simple and direct questions as those written in textbooks. This does not mean they are insincere or with bad intention, rather they could be so confused with the situation itself that they could not explain it clearly, or they may feel embarrassed to ask. Also, it is understandable that not everyone is eloquent and expressive in communication.  We could not expect all the clients come to us and immediately give direct and precise questions. Most of the times, people who need a horary consultation are at the crossroad, anxious and worried about what is happening to them, or in trouble that they are looking for a way out. It is common for astrologers to meet clients without a direct or to-the-point question, and this is when the consultation skills of the astrologers become important in the interaction with the clients. 

I would like to share a few examples and communication techniques that would be helpful for astrologers to guide the clients and to make sure the core question is clearly asked and understood.

The Client just gives the story, but there is no question asked
The client tells the story about what is happening (sometimes, it can be long and complicated, without a focus), and expects the astrologer to give resolution to his problem. There is no specific question asked or it could just as simple and general as “what should I do?” 
In face of all the bits and pieces, the astrologer could use the skill of “summarising”, that is making a summary and tell the client briefly what is heard, this is to check that you have heard things correctly. Also, the process of “summarising” allow us to pick up the most important details of the issue, and not to be side tracked by other unrelated information. After making the summary, we can ask the client “what is of your most concern?” “what do you want to know actually?” , and through the conversation, we can narrow down and find out the core question. 
Once there was a case that the client asked about a legal matter he was involved. I asked him to explain the background of the case but he was just complaining what the other person had done wrong (from his own point of view) in a business deal and that person was trying to sue him. He even tried to show me all the text messages between himself and the other party, expecting me to understand their dispute, yet his emphasis was put on how “bad” the other party was. That was really a situation that “stirred his soul and moved him”, but he was not asking a specific question, nor describing the situation from a more factual or objective point of view. I am not a lawyer and I was not able to understand and judge from a legal point of view. For a complicated matter like this which involves certain professional knowledge, sometimes even the client would not be able to explain clearly, or he may just take the chance to express their emotion, without a clear question asked. However, what I understood from the conversation with the client was that the dispute was about a business deal, and the role of the horary consultation was to see whether the querent would be favoured. The client mentioned that the other party was trying to sue him, so I presumed he wanted to ask his own position as the defendant. I then tried to phrase the question, “do you want to ask how the trial will be if this person sues you?” But then he said, “No! I want to ask if I could win if I sue the woman for her false accusation!”  This is the “eureka” moment and finally I got clear what he really wanted. He did not mention this during the whole conversation, but only after I tried to phrase a question. When the client is not giving a direct question, it would be helpful if the astrologer tries to clarify with the client by asking “do you want to ask xxx?”. This allows the client to reflect and focus on the “question” which may help point to a specific one. 

The Client is not asking what he really wants to ask
Sometimes the client is asking something which indeed has a hidden core issue. For example, a client once asked about the possibility of moving home. It seemed to be a property question which indeed turned out to be a relationship question. The client had problems with her husband for years but they did not separate or divorce, but continued to live in the same flat like flat mates.  The “reason” for staying together was some property matters like it would be difficult to sell the co-own flat if they separate, or the market was not good etc. Indeed, the core issue was they were avoiding to face their relationship problem. 
Usually, even the client asks a direct question, it would be useful if the astrologer still spends some time to discuss with the client about the details. As in the above example, when the client asked about “moving home”, I asked about her present situation, and her plan of moving, or what bothered her most. For topic like this which appears to be “natural” and “normal”, it is useful to dig deeper by asking the client what dilemma or obstacle he is facing, or what he concerns most in the issue. This is to see if the question is just asked out of curiosity, impatience, or casual thought that there is really nothing needs a horary. This also allows the astrologer to know what really matters to the client. Through the conversation, I figured out it was the relationship that mattered, and the property issue was only the cover or a secondary question. Even if a chart was casted right after the property question, I believe it would still show the relationship problem behind. However, by clarifying with the client first, I believe the chart will give clearer indications, and at the same time beneficial to the client when the core issue is acknowledged at the very beginning. 

The Client does not know how to ask
The client is facing a problem, making a decision, but does not know how to ask the question. Sometimes I may encounter clients who know well the problem, but they do not know how to phrase the question, or what the focus should be. In such case, astrologer could discuss with the client and see what the real focus should be. This may require good analytical skill of the astrologer who is able to pick the point that matters.
Once a client asked about an investment question, he was thinking about buying a property some time later. When I asked for more details of this plan, like was there a specific time, or certain property in his mind, he said this was just a “thought” without anything concrete. For horary, a vague question may still lead to an answer, but it would be a vague one too. A concrete or specific question, and when there is something more immediate, would lead to a clearer chart. 
I did not turn down the client immediately, but further asked what made him have that “thought” and what he was planning to do for that plan. He then said why he asked this question was because he would need to do some financial arrangement now if he was to buy a property. Thus I figured out that this “financial arrangement” was more immediate and essential, because the client needed to make the decision at the moment of whether he should contact a financial institution, get a loan and make some other necessary arrangement. The question is not about “shall I buy a property” but “should I do the financial arrangement and would that bring me profit?” Thus it would be useful to ask clients “what makes you have that plan/ thought?” “what decision you need to make indeed?” so to find the real motive behind the issue. 

Though horary astrology appears to be simple as “answering question”, how to clarify the whole situation that the client is in and how to phrase the question would require consultation skills, empathy and patience. It is important to remind ourselves that the chart is casted at the time when the astrologer fully understood the question. Thus posing question with honesty is the role of the client, but how to bring the question to clarity and have it well understood would be the role of the astrologer. If a vague, insincere question would lead to a vague chart, a misunderstood, out of focus question would also lead to a confused judgment. It is worthwhile to spend some time discussing with client before jumping to the question in haste. It may first appear to be confusing, or the client could be emotional, or they could only tell bits and pieces about a complicated matter. However, through asking, talking, reflecting, summarising and paraphrasing, both the client and astrologer would come to clarity. It is never too late for the astrologer to decline if he finds the question not suitable for judgement, say it is pointless, dishonest or too trivial, but only after having understood the whole situation thoroughly. Ultimately, one of the important purposes of horary consultation is to sort out problems, make things clear and thus empower the client to make a wiser decision. Chart judgement abilities are important of course, but it would be beneficial if the horary astrologer is equipped with consultation and communication skills.

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