I could just end this article right here by saying, “Why Certify?”  Because some people have a stronger Saturn than others, that’s why!  However, that would not be in the spirit of the occasion, so let me go on.

Being the Uranian group of people that we are, i.e. eclectic, individualistic and off the beaten path, even before we came to a disciplined study of astrology, most of us learned a little of it here and a little of it there.  Certainly, we all learned at first by reading books; but did we even have a clue what level of astrology we were reading?  And some of us took any class that was offered, if we could find a class at all.  I know some people who began with Uranian, assuming that was the first thing first!  Some other friends got their introduction through the Seven Rays and Madame Blavatsky.  I guess the upside of Uranus really is the ability to roll with the punches.

You, newcomers, have it quite a bit easier.  You know, there wasn’t always a Liz Greene.  Or a Rob Hand.  There was even a time with no American Atlas by Neil Michelsen, much less computer software.  And I’m allowed to say that because my teachers once said to me, “You know, you kids have it easy; there was a time when we had no hand-held calculators with sexisgesimal functions!”

Well, for those students who learned astrology in haphazard, on-again-off-again ways, the certification exam helps you to solidify what you do know, define what you don’t know, and compile what there’s left to know to be serious students and effective practitioners.  And c’mon, that is a Saturnian experience and it’s usually a good, hard Saturn transit that gets this group of students to take the exams.

Why else certify?  Because it gives a boost to your confidence and self-esteem.  It’s a little like going to the gym.  Whether you do it for yourself, or to feel better about yourself in the eyes of other people, there’s no doubt about it – the exams have you feel better about your astrological self. Well, they do, at least, when you pass.  And you know, the 8th house is no less important than the 2nd, so there’s no reason to dismiss the appreciation of other people.

And if you don’t pass, are you put on a firing line with tomatoes thrown at you by giggling NCGR graduates?   Absolutely!  No, actually, in what I’ve seen there is a great camaraderie that develops among students who sit for the exams, and I’m sure a good deal of support comes from teachers and other graduates as well.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that the certification exams have added to the community-feeling within in the community of NCGR.

The exams were designed for students to pass.  This isn’t the AMA, y’know.  Since we are a Uranus-ruled group, there is nothing to be “in,” and therefore, there is nothing to be shut out of.  There are no trick questions.  There are no obscure details.  There are no extraneous topics.  It’s astrology, pure and simple; and we even make the Study Guide available to help you prepare what you need to know.

Okay, so you’ve probably heard that there’s a bunch of math that you have to learn.  Yes, it’s true.  In fact, you can’t even pass Level I without knowing enough about chart calculation.  And yes, we know; we’ve heard a lot of the comments.  “It’s nothing more than arithmetic really, so why do we have learn it?  Besides, in this day and age of computers, it shouldn’t be mandatory.”  There’s less griping about Level II because the calculations are easier, plus you’ve already passed the hurdle of the first level.

Geez, didn’t your mother ever tell you to eat your spinach, finish up at least all of the meat, and drink the rest of your milk?  Okay, so you did get high cholesterol, but really, in a character-building way, wasn’t it good for you, after all?

We could tell you in no uncertain terms that knowing the math by heart really does explain a lot of the astronomy of astrology.  We can also assure you that a professional astrologer feels more solid with the chart, so to speak, when he or she knows where all the parts of it come from.  (I heard Rob Hand once say that calculating the horoscope by hand is the astrologer’s “yoga” with the interpretation of it).  And finally we can hope that the math will back up your performance with clients, especially the suspicious ones who like to pull the trivia quiz on the science of the chart.

That’s all true, but you know what?  After all these years of learning, teaching and practicing, I really think it is about eating your spinach, and it’s the spinach that really counts in a good reading with a client.  Call it character-building, call it grunt work, call it a lesson in compassion for your client’s hassles, or just call it the math of the chart.  I say it’s spinach and it’s good for you.  (And just for the record, I didn’t create the exams.  I only administer them.)

In my experience as a teacher, I’ve seen the difference in the student who sits for the exams.  It’s a degree of maturity.  There’s no other word for it.  It shows in the face of that student, how he or she behaves when in the company of professionals, and in the presentation of astrology to the “outside” world.  And there’s no doubt about it.  Students who take the exams attract clients.

So, another bonus of certification is getting clients?  No, not exactly.  After all, not everyone even wants to practice professionally, be it full- or part-time.  Also, realistically, I’m not sure that clients even know about certification, much less care about it.  (The ones who would look for a certified astrologer probably wouldn’t look for an astrologer at all; they’d look for a Ph.D. in something conventional.)

So, then certification means bumpkus in the starting of or in having a practice?  Well, not exactly on that one either.  In all honesty, I’ve seen a surprising coincidence between an increase in the number of clients with the advancement of the student’s certification process.  I always just chalked that up to the self-esteem thing. Many certified, working practitioners don’t even add the line, “certified astrologer” to their business cards.  The certification just “shows.”

And now that I brought you down this road, let’s stop to clarify a very important point.  The point of certification is not about getting business.  And the point of practicing astrology is not about paying your rent.  And the point of studying astrology is not about being a full-time professional.

The point of studying astrology is to learn about yourself and the world you live in.  And the point of practicing astrology is to answer a call.

For as much as we espouse the importance of practicing astrology professionally with standards and ethics, with compassion and awareness, with genuine motivation and not for power; and for as much as we advocate combining astrological practice with psychology, counseling, other healing arts, or a good grounding in other subjects such economics for financial astrology; nevertheless, the practice of astrology is a calling.  And if we are meant to do it, be part-time or full, for money or for barter, in an office or a café, then it will be done.  Ultimately, nobody does astrology.  Astrology does us.  Being true to the call is a lot trickier than knowing your stuff.

And when I speak of “we,” I add my name to the top of the list of astrologers who came of astrological age, so to speak, in early days of NCGR in the very psychological 70’s, and went on to work and teach with a strong bent toward counseling, threatening even to dilute astrology with our other studies.  We had to back up quite a bit, learn more genuine astrology, learn more techniques of astrology, and learn the history of astrology.   We ran the risk back then of forgetting that psychology is the subset of astrology and not the other way around.  Luckily, we came to our senses.  And that, dear students, is yet another benefit of the certification exams.  They’ll keep you on a straight course of study, and not in some murky combination of astro-something-or-other.

Now, if you want a formal run-down of what to prepare for on each level of the exam, here you are.  For Level I, you need to know how to calculate a natal chart, not only for a New York native, but also for weird co-ordinates and time zones that get you think, like New Delhi and Buenos Aires.  (Here’s a trick to double-check your math: no matter where you’re born, if you’re born at noon, the Sun has to be at the top of the chart.  The ascendant is dawn, descendant is dusk, and the IC is midnight.  It’s 10 P.M.  Do you know where your Sun is?)  Some simple astronomy is necessary; it’s right in the Study Guide; and the interpretation questions are a cinch.

Level II candidates need to know how to calculate and interpret secondary progressions, including the monthly progressed Moon positions and the ACD.  Solar arcs and transits are also necessary as well as the obvious intermediate topics.  The astronomy studies are in the guide too.  And here’s a hint:  don’t forget anything you learned from Level I.

Level III is for the big kids.  A take-home section includes two three-page essays; one on the interpretation of a solar return, and the other on the application of mundane techniques.  Yes, you can look up the answers, but at this point, do you really want to?  Then, the actual exam tests you on synastry and composite charts, electional and horary techniques, comparative house systems and a little history of astrology.  The “math” of this level is to work with the dials, but you don’t have to know Uranian.  You just have to know what it is as part of the history.

Part I of Level IV is a rectification.  It can be the chart rectification of someone you know, or we can give you an anonymous chart.  It can be a celebrity or a historical figure.  It can be a known birth time that needs to be proven, an unknown birth time that needs to be discovered, or an approximated birth time that needs to be fine-tuned.  It’s only expected that it be the birth time of a human being.  You see, what’s important is that you know what’s behind the rectification, not that you get it right.

If you choose to qualify for a certificate in consulting astrology, then the second part of Level IV is the real thing: a reading.  You can read for someone you know, or we can refer someone to you.  Once that’s decided you get the birth info, make the appointment, have the reading, and collect a little fee.  Like I said, the real thing. 

If you’re really an offbeat astrologer, you can qualify for a certificate in research.  When you get that far, call me.

And now, if you want my informal run-down of what to expect from each level, here’s a brief synopsis that I’ve culled from students through the years.  The only hard part of Level I is the anxiety that precedes it; you can talk to your shrink about that.  When you pass, it’s such a breeze, such a boost for your confidence, such an elation that it runs the risk of setting you up for a crash on Level II.  In and of itself, the second level is not hard, but you do need to know everything under the Sun including the stuff from Level I.  The third level is the most fun.  You don’t have any of the anxiety of the earlier exams or of what’s to come with Level IV, plus you actually get to express yourself.  As for Level IV, well, if you’re not ready for that when the time comes, then you’ll never be ready.  At this point, you might as well complete the process and have something to show for it!

In winding down these informal thoughts, I’ll share with you an observation made by a very important teacher to us all, Joanna Shannon.  She noticed most good astrologers had some background in some kind of artistic expression, be it painting, music, dance or whatever, something of a 5th house sort.  She assumed that lent their personalities an ability to interpret character in the horoscope, much like the degree of shading in a drawing.

So, after all that cheerleading to take the exams, when you’re done?  Study art.  It’ll make you a better astrologer.

For now, in closing, I just say, “Eat your spinach.  You’ll thank me one day!”