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Back to Interviews 



Matrix Interview with Astrologer John Townley
Our interviewer is Michael Erlewine     December 22, 2008

Erlewine: Welcome John. We have known each other for many years, but for folks who haven’t met you, would you share your birth data?

Townley: Sure, August 17, 1945, 1:51 AM EWT, Walter Reed Army Hospital, Washington, DC. It’s erroneously given four minutes later in my book “Planets In Love.” That’s a rectified time (originally done by Al. H. Morrison and well-confirmed over the years by experience).

Erlewine: How did you get interested in astrology?

Townley: In the middle to late 1960s I was on a youthful pursuit of new avenues of enlightenment after a very intensive Classical and humanities-oriented schooling. Astrology was just part of the generally ineffable that was prime territory and needed sorting out. I consulted astrologer Al H. Morrison (from the grave he would still insist on that middle “H”) and later gave him office space at my seminal multi-track recording studio in the Village in return for doing the charts of the people who recorded there, like Frank Zappa, the Mothers of Invention, and many more. In the process and proximity, I became a student, which was a good thing, as when my company was later driven under by the vagaries of the music biz, I found I had a new, interesting, and useful profession.

Erlewine: Who did you learn from, what books or schools of astrology?

Townley: After Al, my main influence was Charles Jayne, who was nice enough to share his office with myself and another younger astrologer (Diane Gusick). I would say I learned the basics and a lot of instinctual stuff from Al, the more theoretical and historical approaches from Jayne, and the rest from grazing everything else I could find.

Erlewine: Have you had teachers or mentors?

Townley: Yes, Al was surely a mentor in the most classical sense. He literally took me under his wing as both student and personal assistant until we had a falling-out due to astrological politics. Yet, I don’t particularly follow his methods, so there’s not a real lineage there. I’m closer to Jayne’s approach in that respect, viewing astrology in the context of cycles and the larger non-astrological background in general.

Erlewine: What type of astrology do you do?

Townley: I’m a generalist, so I use everything where appropriate: tropical natal, progressions, transits, returns, horary, electional, synastry, composites, relocational, harmonics, even the occasional arc transform chart. The challenge is to deploy them in an inclusive framework so they all are answerable to the same structure and aren’t simply ad hoc methods with conflicting raisons d’etre.

Erlewine: Have you created any new techniques in astrology and what are they?

Townley: The composite chart, graphic cycle analysis, and degree-area rectification by association are the three I have introduced so far, though there is also a cycle locality method in formulation at the moment. The composite chart is almost universally employed now, but in the early 1970s it was simply an unused supposition from the 1920s German midpoint astrology schools of Walter Koch (of Koch houses fame) and Edith Wangemann. I developed it into a practical tool, wrote the first, introductory book on the matter (I later wrote a really big one on it), and it just caught fire because it worked well and provided a totally new window on relationships.

My second, the idea of planetary cycles developed in relationship to a given point and then graphed to see the results came right after and attempted to provide a way to see and combine all the cycles that many earlier 20th-century astrologers had talked about (like Jayne, Lewi, and others) and put them all together. It leaned heavily on how the most common human-length cycles matched the so-called “life crisis periods” and it must have been in the air, as Gail Sheehey’s non-astrological treatment of the same subject Passages came out around the same time. Now the idea of standalone and mixed planetary cycles in addition to simple transits as a fundamental is old hat among astrologers. Not so well-known is my alternative method of rectification, which is based on shared degree areas with other actors in your life and with multiple horary queries instead of the traditional personal tragedy event times that most astrologers use for that purpose. It’s a broad-spectrum, quantitative approach that deduces your angles by where they coincide with the fabric of your daily existence and those who inhabit it. You can see a couple of articles about it on my site.

The last, which I recently discussed on my Matrix blog, is an excursion into locality astrology, theorizing that it’s physically based on diurnal returns. I don’t exactly know where I’m going with that one so far, just speculating.

Erlewine: What do you personally use astrology for in your life and how often do you consult it?

Townley: I use it all the time, consult it daily, regarding virtually everything. It’s like keeping an eye on the weather – ever-fascinating, educational and helpful, but in the end you have to do what you have to do, once you’ve looked at all the factors, astrological and otherwise.

Erlewine: Have you done readings for others? If so, what techniques work best and how often do you do readings? Do you want clients to contact you now forreadings?

Townley: Yes, I’ve been in regular consulting practice since forever, with many fond clients over the years. I can be reached for appointments at my website.

Erlewine: Have you been to gatherings, conferences, etc. on astrology and how were they? Are you a social astrologer or a lone wolf?

Townley: I used to be in the thick of it, way back when, but I burned out on astro-politics which can rank up with archaeology and paleontology for pointless killer infighting. As its president, I helped grow the “Astrologers’ Guild of America” to the second largest astrological organization in the country after AFA at the beginning of the huge infusion of interest in the 1970s, but it self-destructed and the majority of members I brought in went off to found NCGR. I got out of politics after that, but did the conference circuit on and off until I just gave up on it. Too much expense, too little benefits, at least in my personal experience. I keep up to date through correspondence and on the Web, which is quite sufficient for my needs, though I think conferences serve a useful purpose for education and discussion for students and astrologers, along with promoting understanding and publicity for the field in general.

Erlewine: What are your connections to professional astrologers?

Townley: None, though I used to. I keep in touch through personal contacts in the field.

Erlewine: What are your thoughts about the state of modern astrology and astrologers?

Townley: I’ve often been quoted as saying it’s simply dreadful – generally chaotic and often thoughtlessly self-serving – but that may be evolving, or at least changing in style, thanks to the recent revival on the Internet. There are hundreds of astro-bloggers and talented new astrologers with a totally new and refreshingly skeptical and un-doctrinaire attitude, though of course charlatans in the most classic sense still abound. Like everywhere else right now, there’s change in the air, and it’s being driven by a new generation and new knowledge-collecting and communications technology. For the first time in many years, I’m rather hopeful for the future of the field.

Erlewine: What about the business of astrology? Does it work for you?

Townley: I can probably speak for most astrologers in saying it doesn’t pay well enough in relationship to the time you put in. Unless you have an insanely rich and famous client or two (as only a handful do, despite PR claims), you’re probably economically better off in some other profession, no matter how good you are at it. Professionally, astrology has shared my life equally with music and journalism, though all three are disciplines which the most amateur jackasses often think they can do (and sometimes get rich doing, despite), but most have to hang in there at maintenance level for the love of it until fortune smiles or you die trying.

Erlewine: Tell us about your business astrology projects.

Townley: Most of them have involved books, magazines, reports (most for Matrix, actually), and personal consultation. The business-management end of things has never appealed to me, though I’m fairly good at it. After being shoved up to my level of incompetence (a la the Peter Principle) in both music and writing/publishing, I’ve managed to avoid that in astrology, so far, though of course I’d probably do it for a price…

Erlewine: In particular, how about the story of any astrology businesses you have undertaken, the ups and downs, and your view of the future of this work?

Townley: The future of the business of astrology has to be in integrating it into people’s personal life and in the making of money. It will be a moneymaker by itself as a personal advisory tool when you can get good, computerized AI (artificial intelligence) versions on your next-generation handheld all-in-one. But its real potential is within general product marketing by data-mining for people’s tastes, proclivities, and buying potentials elsewhere. Consumer’s birth data are everywhere, and when the few people in the right places finally try it out, it will become a general goldmine. Astrology does give you a small leg-up in so many areas, and even a percentage point is worth billions in the right markets. Similar advantages are to be found in human resource management (hiring and firing, job-matching), insurance (the insurance companies are already on to the first steps), and much more.

Erlewine: How have astrologers responded to your site and what about regular folks?

Townley: Astrologers tend to love it, since I’m primarily an astrologer’s astrologer, theorist, and iconoclast, but it doesn’t do pop Sun-sign stuff, which is where the numbers still are, so it’s not about to draw the for-entertainment-only crowd. After nearly four years on the Web, we’re only up to a dedicated 10,000+ unique visits a month.

Erlewine: Do you think astrology is a predictive tool and if so, how so?

Townley: It’s like weather forecasting (another fundamental metaphor I introduced way back when, and now common) – it works well enough in general to be extremely and sometimes critically useful, but not well enough to give you tomorrow’s headlines. In fact, curiously, it’s more likely to give you tomorrow’s snatches of body copy, since it yields the general thrust of what’s coming, rather than exactly where it’s going to apply. So, it’s good for finding trends, both general and personal, but then it’s up to you to include the rest of life’s information and experience to proceed.

Erlewine: Do you identify yourself as an astrologer to others and how do they respond?

Townley: The usual response is, “Oh really?” It’s both curious and dismissive at the same time. There are a lot of complaints among astrologers about a real prejudice here, and they’re almost all true. The understanding that it’s not some loopy thing that guarantees you’re a flake is only starting to seep in (despite the anger of both “scientific” skeptics and religious fundamentalists), so one proceeds with caution. In potentially hostile waters, I present as a journalist who sometimes writes about the subject, and I feel people out from there…

Erlewine: Does astrology give you answers for deeply personal questions and quests?

Townley: It’s a compelling part of the framework, but not an ultimate answer, nor does it give any intrinsic meaning, any more than science does. It’s descriptive and structural, and portrays a certain aspect of the total environment you swim in. Indeed, I think it’s fundamentally environmental science at the scale of the solar system and its downward entrainment (and to a certain extent, mutual resonance) in terms of time and size. Like science, it’s the ultimate antidote to anthropomorphism, because its whole mechanism predates humanity itself. Modern attempts to describe it as a subset of human psychology or mythology have it completely backwards. Our fundamental rhythms and any historical varieties of individual, cultural, or species-specific behaviors and beliefs are by definition crafted by what was there before us and continue to shape us today, not the other way around. It’s both nature and after that, nurture, while leaving the free will question entirely up to the individual. If nothing else, that puts your deeply personal questions and quests in the proper context from which they arose. Then you go from there…




About Astrologer John Townley

Early in his astrological career, John Townley introduced the composite chart technique for analyzing relationships in his book “The Composite Chart”, and twenty years later wrote the definitive work on the subject, “Composite Charts: The Astrology Of Relationships.” He has pioneered techniques for astrological cycle analysis and proposed a new, physical basis for astrology. He is also the author of “Planets in Love,” “Dynamic Astrology,” and “Lunar Returns,” has been the president of the Astrologers' Guild of America, was the editor of The Astrological Review, and is a contributor to professional and popular astrological magazines. His books have been translated into seven languages.

Townley is also a well-known journalist, elected member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, historian, preservationist, performer, and record producer. He can be regularly found, camera and microphone in hand, covering cultural and technology events ranging from the Consumer Electronics Show to the Toy Fair, from international music festivals to ocean sailing races. When he's not behind the camera and microphone, he's in front of them, performing at maritime concerts in the U.S. and across Europe.

Townley can be reached at townley@astrococktail.com and through his website John and Susan Townley's AstroCocktail



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