I became interested in learning about Shantam Zohar sometime late in the year 2000, when a college-age friend of mine reported taking astrology classes with him in Boulder, Colorado. From what I could understand, Shantam was teaching astrology in a way that would reach even the most cynical young person. My interest always perks up when I learn of someone who is not famous (yet) who is earning a significant portion his keep by teaching astrology. It seems to me that such an individual must have something very interesting to offer, or they would not be able to prosper. In Shantam's case, I learned that he has developed his teaching method on his own, apparently unaware that others such as Jeff Jawer and others have explored similar ground in their "Experiental Astrology" classes and workshops.
Not having studied with either man, I can't say to what extent their methods may (or may not) overlap. However, I can appreciate how effective they are. In the case of my young college-student friend, he has quickly gone from asking me very general, uninformed questions about astrology, to asking very sophisticated ones.
CF: Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the name "Shantam" have something to do with peace? From the narratives available on your website at http://www.whatshapnin.com/shantam/, it seems that you were once an elite Israeli soldier. If I am right, what does your use of that name have to do with your military background?
SZ: I was born in a country where war is constant. The stories of astroclass 1 and 8 fall under the rulership of Mars and describe two faces of the god of war. Despite the pain of being involved in such action, I feel that the significance of peace came to me through the experience of war. Conflict can be overt or a menacing undercurrent. Drafted at seventeen, the luxury of subtle strife was denied to me. I had to learn about conflict fast. This could be considered lucky, because the subtler weapons tend to make for enduring enmity.
Once I got out of the military, my search for peace began. Five years later, in India, after several weeks of silence, I was offered the Sanskrit name Shantam, which means peace and silence. New names are typically either descriptions or proposed goals. I took 'Shantam' as an assignment. I strive to become my name.
CF: You appear to have gone through a number of dramatically transformative experiences in your life. Would you care to discuss a few of them? In particular, in what way have astrology and astrological concepts figured in those experiences?
SZ: Once I was living with a woman who was going through a lot of suffering. At the time I was a very serious yogi; you could barely get a hold of me for any reason at all. My philosophy was that we are each on our own, plowing through this nightmare of life. I thought, "let her do her meditation, I'll do mine." One day I looked at the transits to the midpoints of my ninth harmonic chart and realized that I got the whole thing wrong. I stopped my practice and sat naked on the floor of my room for a month until I could feel my feelings again. Then I turned to offer her support. That's an example of how I use astrology.
Astrology is a great aid which can become a huge trap. It's easy to keep it an air science, a cool breeze on the surface of the mental plane. As one of my students once wrote, "in life there is one thing which always stays the same. That is the natal chart."
"True," I replied, "watch out."
Charts can become excuses, a justification to stay stuck in cellular confinement. House cusps become jail bars, glyphs tormented prisoners. The natal chart may not change, but the relationship with it is in constant flux. I describe this model in astroclass 1.
Transformation through astrology takes a lot of honesty, a willingness to act upon knowledge. In my natal chart a grand trine rests in earth between Pluto, Mercury and Moon. Through meditating on that trine I have come to see death as an ally, to embrace change.
You ask about drama. Drama is what happens when aspects in transit narrow to become exact. As a student of cycles, I embrace dramatic events as pivotal points of potential inclusion rather than secluded moments of horror or fun. So the dramatic transformations are there and I write about them or tell their tales in class. My goal, however, is not to create excitement or encourage the irregular to manifest. It is to help us pay attention to what's going on all the time; to notice life.
CF: Tell us about your teaching style and techniques. What makes them so powerful? Are they uniquely your own discovery, or are there others who have used them?
SZ: When I was five my mother watched me lecture to a group of kids at my kindergarten. It was a hot day and on our way home she bought me an artik, which is an Israeli ice cream. We passed the home of Arieli, a secret service man and I was afraid of his dog. My mother said to me, "you are a talented teacher." A drop of my artik hit hot pavement and I knew my destiny. There was nothing exciting about it. A walk home on a normal day.
This is an example of how I use stories.
Now you know that I am alive. I have a mother. She bought me ice cream. You can feel the relevance of my life, my calling, my heritage, the 'drama' behind it all. I learn with my students to make life relevant through astrology. To realize the intricacies of our charts through focus on imagination and presence.
Are there others who teach this way? I hope so. I know one teacher who does, his name is Paul Oertel, a master teacher of the now. The techniques I use are mostly original, because they come to life in the moment. You should come for a visit, really.
CF: My impression of you is of a very intense individual, a "realistic idealist." The reports I hear of your astrology classes are intriguing to me. How do you use life experiences to trigger an understanding of basic astrological concepts? Would you please discuss how drama and role-playing came to be such a big part of your teaching style? What role do you envision for astrology in your students' lives? Clearly you don't see it simply another way of telling time or predicting events.
SZ: You have defined me well...
In class I encourage people to BE everything through astrology. It's easy to analyze Pisces, but analysis is a Virgo trait. To know Pisces you have to be Pisces, through music, movement, compassion, whatever. Without stepping on stage Leo will remain a mystery to you. That's what I invoke. I do it by doing it. In truth, that is my specialty. I am willing to feel and experience any aspect of life through the conceptual framework of astrology. I do facilitate safety, but will not perpetuate stagnation. In my work, we move through charts towards life, and life is all encompassing.
With readings I do the same thing, but there it is focused on the needs of an individual or a relationship. When I read I take upon myself not only the thought patterns of the querent, but also his or her body language and feeling states. That's why I do distant readings on video now; seeing me is important.
CF: Who are your astrological heroes, people who have taught or inspired you in some way? How about your non-astrological heroes? Why are they heroes to you?
SZ: My astrological heroes are not many.
Dane Rudhyar was certainly the one who convinced me of the depth of the field. Many astrologers must be grateful to him. Unfortunately, my students find him hard to follow. Relatively unknown astrologers have inspired me in person. Mickey Shaharur of Israel introduced me to my chart fifteen years ago. Ariel, a Sufi from Pune, India, taught me how to whirl around the vastness of the center of the chart. Norma Jean Ream of Hawaii was a generous mentor to me.
My current heroes are the people whose charts I read. I find their openness inspiring, their humility refreshing and their determination to emerge from darkness admirable.
My father taught me how not to be attached to any specific point of view and my loving partner Keren teaches me daily the only things I can't explain.
CF: What's happening in the world today, or in the astrological world, that excites you, frightens you, motivates you, and just generally gets your pulse racing? Would you care to comment on those things?
SZ: People often ask me why there should be any connection between the movements of the planets and their personal lives?
Their question frightens me. I imagine what it must be like for them, living such loneliness. I wonder if it is part of the American dream, to be independent of the solar system.
The astrological world intrigues me. I don't know many other astrologers. Even your appearance was a surprise for me, a pleasant surprise, of course. I know that there are conferences and would love to come and share my approach. Maybe it will happen now. I would be honored.
CF: Do you have any plans to expand your teaching schedule with articles and books, or perhaps a lecture series at a major astrological conference? If you do, could you let us know something about that?
SZ: Oh yeah, you told me about the conferences...
I am working on an article on aspects; I have a simple, but very useful approach to aspects which I never read about anywhere else.
My vision is to keep doing this great work here in Boulder for a while. I would like a seasonal relationship with retreat centers. This summer I'll be touring the west coast, telling stories, doing readings, and lecturing. I will be teaching a new web class on video starting September. It will probably be on Naropa University's distant learning site. I'm also working on an astrology video series which should come out in the fall. My web site itself, which you mentioned above, is destined to become a book.
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