Steve Pavlina, the blogosphere’s foremost authority on personal development, has written a fantastic book on astrology and the Tarot. The odd thing is that he doesn’t know it.
In fact, as far as I know, Steve is completely ignorant of astrology and the Tarot. He is something of a mystic — by his own account, he has contacted dead people, entered the astral realm, and channeled spirits — but this isn’t his main focus. Instead, his passion is personal development — the pursuit of individual growth.
Personal development is a wide area of interest, and covers everything from time management to strength building to better business practice to exploring psychic powers. Steve has touched on every one of these topics on his blog over the past four years. Partly in order to bring all of these diverse interests into one framework, and partly because he’s a nerdy guy who likes challenging puzzles, he has written a book called Personal Development for Smart People, in which he boils his mission of growth down into three basic principles (and four derived principles) which can be used by anyone as a guide to self-betterment. The seven principles are Truth, Love, Power, Oneness, Courage, Authority, and Intelligence.
What Steve doesn’t realize is that these seven principles are already an integral part of astrology and the Tarot. In fact, the mapping is incredibly straightforward, as you’ll see. But that doesn’t mean Steve’s work is redundant. On the contrary, he brings a fresh perspective and insight into these ancient symbols, and lays out a framework to put them to work in your life immediately. In this series of articles, I’ll review his book, show how his system maps to astrology and the Tarot, and tie the systems together to produce a rich tapestry of direction and possibility.
Personal Development for Smart People: the Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth
Steve is a somewhat polarizing figure, and few people agree with him on every issue. He sees his mission as one to inspire others in their growth and development, and he doesn’t hesitate to use harsh medicine on occasion, or to dive headfirst into controversial topics. But his writing is always engaging, not least because he willingly shares his most painful personal moments in order to drive home his points.
In the very first sentence of the book, he introduces Steve at age 17, sitting in a jail cell, charged with felony grand theft. His goal in bringing up the story is not to boast of how far he’s come, but to inspire us with what is possible. Any problem can be solved, he is saying, with the consistent and persistent application of the principles in this book. It won’t necessarily be easy, and to his credit, he promises no painless solutions. But there are solutions, and they are well worth pursuing.
Steve first lays out three basic principles of growth (Truth, Love, and Power), and then shows how they can be combined to create four further principles (Courage, Oneness, Authority, and Intelligence). Specifically, Courage = Love + Power; Oneness = Love + Truth; Authority = Truth + Power; and Intelligence is the combination of all three.
The three core principles are designed to be universal (applicable to anyone, anywhere, anywhen), complete, irreducible, non-contradictory, and practical. Taken together, they can be used as a guide of thought and action for any situation. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, contact the spirit world, or redecorate your apartment, Truth, Love, and Power are your allies.
For example, when you want to lose weight, you have to have Truth to help you accept where you are now and what it will take to effect the change you want; you have to have Love to give you understanding of your body and its deepest needs, and compassionate feeling for your own foibles and weaknesses so that you can overcome them; and you have to have Power to fuel your desire and transform it into the necessary action.
Combining the three core principles to create the other four is an interesting leap. To my mind, these four are not logically derived (Steve gives no equations anywhere) but instead stand in the place where the core principles mingle. Authority is Truth empowered, while Courage is Power motivated by Love. I’m not clear on how Truth and Love give rise to Oneness, but I can’t deny its intuitive appeal. And as for Intelligence being the combination of all three — frankly I wouldn’t have chosen this word. To me, “Intelligence” implies little more than “capacity to reason”, but Steve is using it in a transcendant sense — something more like sentience or even creativity.
In the second half of the book, Steve leaves behind the seven ivory towers, and shows the real power of his approach. He attacks half a dozen different areas of life — habits, relationships, career, money, health, and spirituality — and shows how using these principles in a practical way can foster betterment in each area. This is not a book of platitudes and abstractions: he gives actual solid advice firmly grounded in his abstract foundation. Here are some of my favorite practical ideas from the book:
“Experiment to discover how music may boost your effectiveness. Try trance or rock music for email, classical or New Age music for projects, and total silence for high-concentration creative work.”
“The main reason the odds of success in many competitive endeavors seem low is that there’s so much ‘churn’ at the bottom. New people constantly enter the field, give up within the first few months, and get replaced by more newcomers. They try it, they fail, and they move on. They lack the courage to persist when the going gets tough. But if you just stick with it long enough, you’ll soon bypass the slush pile and get into the long run where the odds keep getting better because you’re gaining valuable experience and wisdom.”
“There are two basic ways to earn money: 1. Make a meaningful social contribution, and recieve payment commensurate with the social value of your contributon. 2. Take advantage of market inefficiencies to extract money without contributing any substantial value… Here’s another way of labeling these two strategies: 1. Contribute. 2. Mooch.”
“The truth is that if the average person wouldn’t consider your current health practices extreme, you probably aren’t very healthy.”
“Recently, Erin and I … walked into a touristy-looking shop, picked up a strong vibe from a woman we’d never met, and started up a conversation. Thirty minutes later we’d become friends and said good-bye with hugs… Before I experienced the mind-set of oneness, I could never walk into some random store and expect to be hugging someone I’d never met before.”
“Personal relationships can be a tremendous source of spiritual growth. While it’s possible for us to fall out of touch with reality if we spend too much time alone, such problems are less likely with abundant interaction… The people around us will tell us we’ve gone off the deep end.”
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
So where does Steve’s approach fit with astrology? Extraordinarily, Steve’s seven principles fit like a glove onto the seven visible astrological planets: the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The fit is so apt that it barely needs defense or explication.
TRUTH: THE SUN
“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” — Elvis Presley
LOVE: THE MOON
“The moon is nothing but a circumambulating aphrodisiac divinely subsidized to provoke the world into a rising birth-rate.” — Christopher Fry
“Bear up, my child, bear up; Zeus who oversees and directs all things is still mighty in heaven.” — Sophocles
“I am the womb of the world and the cause of this teeming of creatures, And if discouraged I ceased, God’s world would lose heart and perish.” — Aphrodite, speaking to Zeus in the Ilion
“Ares, exceeding in strength, chariot-rider, golden-helmed, doughty in heart, shield-bearer, Saviour of cities, harnessed in bronze, strong of arm, unwearying, mighty with the spear.” — Homer
“Nondescript monsters … fitted with miscellaneous limbs, were once produced spontaneously by Ge out of the primeval mud, when she had not yet solidified under a rainless sky and was deriving no moisture from the blazing sun. But Khronos (Time), combining this with that, brought the animal creation into order.” — Apollonius Rhodius
“Hermes, draw near, and to my prayer incline, messenger of Zeus, and Maia’s son divine; prefect of contests, ruler of mankind [power], with heart almighty [love], and a prudent mind [truth].”– Orphic Hymn to Hermes
Love and Oneness, the Moon and Venus
A note on Venus and the Moon is probably in order. Venus is the traditional ruler of Love, so it may seem odd that I’ve assigned Love to the Moon. However, under Love, Steve discusses all kinds of love — romantic love, Platonic love, love of art and beauty, love of service, joy, etc. He even includes blocked Love, which is arguably the ultimate source of fear and the emotions derived from that: anger, jealousy, bitterness, and so forth. So in a very real way, the Moon — which astrologically oversees emotion — is really the ultimate symbol of Love in all its manifestations. Venus, on the other hand, is much more about love between individuals — love towards others. As such, it is a planet of drawing together that which seems separate — i.e., Oneness.
Also, you might be wondering about the other planets — Uranus and Neptune — and dwarf planets (like Pluto and Eris and Ceres and…). Don’t they get principles? I discussed this matter in depth in On Pluto, but in summary I am a bit reactionary with regard to planets that are not visible to the naked eye. To me, their meanings seem rather arbitrary, and I feel on firmer ground with the seven planets that have been around for millennia. If they were good enough for Ptolemy…
Seven Planets for Smart People
The purpose here is not to say that Steve stole his ideas from ancient astrologers. What it shows, I think, is that Steve has intuitively tapped into ancient wisdom, and even built upon it. Steve’s insights about the relationships between these forces can inform astrological analysis; and likewise, astrological concepts can enrich Steve’s system.
For example, if you have Saturn in your 7th house, you might want to look at Steve’s section on Authority in Relationships (in which he suggests finding a social mentor or coach, but reminds you that you are the final authority in your own relationships). Astrological transits and progressions, which describe the interactions between planets, can cast light on potential (apparent) conflicts between Steve’s principles (what happens when you have Mars square Saturn, and your attempts at establishing your authority are frustrated by a lack of courage?). And the signs of the zodiac (which I have previously analyzed using the eight-circuit model) can suggest ways in which the seven forces are expressed in different personality types.
And for You?
If you would like an analysis for yourself, using your own chart, I’d be more than happy to provide one in exchange for a donation of any amount you feel is fair. You can use the contact form. Make a note of your name, birth time and birthplace, and provide your email address so I can get back to you.
In the next article in this series, I will review the interactions between Steve’s principles and the larger body of astrology; and in the following one, I will map these principles into the Tarot.