As reviewed by Mary Plumb
Erin Sullivan writes with conviction in her new book, that “if it is familiar, it is familial”. Whether our starting gate in this world was — in her memorable phrase — a “nest of vipers” or a more benign reality, she believes that all groups we form outside of the family of origin are linked back to that primary pattern, and her book explores the theme of understanding our place within this larger group.
The first section of the book, “The Big Picture: The Organic Family”, requires attentive reading, but then her topic is big. She introduces a contemporary psychological method known as family systems, which is based on General Systems Theory. GST produces a model of all the people involved in a group, and is intimately concerned with the various interactions and venues for exchange that occur within the hierarchies and cross-currents of any group. In a family, for example, one looks at past generations as well as one’s own extended family (siblings, aunts, in-laws, etc.) to see the individual’s place in the larger story.
The family is described by the author in te language of GST and then placed within an astrological context. What is the purpose of a family and what holds it together? Astrological models for the open (Uranian) or closed (Neptunian) family system are suggested and she investigates solar and lunar themes, gender issues, parenthood, family roles, and in a short but excellent chapter, declares “Freud Had it Half Right”, which inlcudes “two not so fairy tales” on the good mother and the good father.
Part II, Family Dynamics, is an analysis of the key astrological components one can look for in uncovering patterns. Here the author inclues the Modal Family (cardinal, fixed, and mutable), which she calls “the tension of life”; the Elemental Famiy (fire, earth, air and water) called “circuits of being”, and the Water Houses (4th, 8th and 12th) alluringly named “the Ancestral Eyes of the Soul”. In the last chapter here Sullivan explains her key motif that transits happen to families together: “Our natal charts… are our family patterns. Therefore, transits ot the natal chart reawaken and reactivate our infantile and developmental selves in relation to the family…In a sense all transits are about the family within ourselves.
The effects of successful family systems work bring change to the individual, as well as (necessarily) the whole system. In like manner, the author writes, “The purpose of this way of viewing things is to liberate both parents and children from absolute personal responsibility for each other and to encourage more independence, paradoxically, by stressing their intra-dependence!”
Her retelling, in Part III, of the stories of five individuals with whom she has worked, is the heart of the book. These are fascinating true takes and Sullivan’s astrological insights are beautiful. There is the story of an adopted man, whose pre-natal eclipses reveal the bonds forming with the family that would much later adopt him! There is an autistic boy, a woman whose daughter rejected her while still in the womb, a woman who became the “circuit breaker” in her family, and a woman carrying her whle ancestral line, and she is the last. Here we come full circle as she breathes life into theory in writing of these complex lives. Erin Sullivan has a depth of mind; when she focuses her gaze, there seems no bottom to what she finds. This is through and heart-felt analysis. Although she is using a system’s approach, astrology is her guide. She is not a therapist, but is using astrology to help unlock a “stuck system”; it is fascinating and her book demonstrates a glimpse of “how to”. You may be inspired to gather all the family birth data you can find and see what begins to be revealed.
Sullivan’s writing style may take some getting used to — she tends to prefer an arcane word to a more familiar one, and she can be indirect in her phrasing. But the persistent reader will be immensely rewarded: her content is serious (though not without humor), and remarkably graceful. She has written a book that provides astrologers with a way to consider their own family fates. I am sure many will take the ball and run with it!
As reviewed by Noel Tyl
In Dynasty, Erin Sullivan — certainly established as one of astrology’s most inspired and skilled writers — pays a great compliment to her readers. She presents a challenging subject — the astrology of the extended family — in uncompromising depth, with unflicnhing driving energy, and with a sensitivity that never falters. Sullivan is saying, here’s a subject we astrologers have never studied before, here’s a subject we need to know about, here’s what my research has discovered, come with me to mine the burnished gold of learning.
As Sullivan states up front, the sense of family in our modern world is as shattered as it can be; we long for understanding of what family should be, of what family means; the sense of family will somehow restore us and confirm who we are through some precedent that emerges, some touchstone for our beingness and our feelings. This was almost too much for me to be reminded of personally. I who have no family, know not my mother’s birth circumstances nor lineage, nor my father’s origin or birthday, I who have so yearned for the orientation and explanations Sullivan captures — the foundations of who and why I am.
Sullivan embraces six levels of life-consideration that relate us beyond our fleeting persona: there are cosmic time, historical epoch, the collective Zeitgeist, the environmental culture, the immediate family, and the emergence of individuality. There are signatures clearly defined within that spectrum, powerful signatures that define throughout generations who we are in terms of who our progenitors were. These signatures live on with a continuity that brings our future together with our past.
Why does the Pluto in Leo (Neptune in Libra) generation fear losing individuality to the masses, blame parents for the ills of the present? What is behind the Uranian signature of family, the disengagement with others that is fostered by early exposure to independence? What is the Neptunian family experience, the adherene to patterns, the maximising of family protection that prepares not for individual divergence?
Through crystal clear planetary signatures rich with extraordinary etched details, Sullivan uncovers life themes all around us defining how we are channelled by time into self expression, through our family experience. The Moon-Mars family signature, for example, defines a strain of family competitiveness; the Moon-Venus signature, which appears dominant in my horoscope, suggests to me what my mother must surely have had deep in her legacy, with her parents, and their parents in turn. This is how behavioural complexities start to unknot themselves. Sullivan’s use of Pluto as a pointer of truth, her dynamic management of simple Sun positions within family analysis, and her exploration of elements and, indeed, transits within family signatures will take your breath away. If you want new material, fresh insights, please look with Sullivan’s eyes deeply into your soul’s beginning.
Dynasty is composed in three parts: “The Big Picture”, “Family Dynamics”, and “Dynasty”. In the last section, you will read case studies of extended families presented in extraordinary beguiling detail, with great tenderness and illumination as well as dramatic charting of research data. The astrology falls naturally into the extraordinarily dimensioned realities of families reaching for meaning. In my opinion, these case studies take a front position in our literature as amonst the most compelling and instructive of their kind ever. Meet “Toby” and the others; you will agree with me: these lives, these families, had to have been sent to Sullivan; they are clustered in her life as she was writing this book. These discoveries were meant for the now, in her life and ours.
Yes, this is an extraordinary review: in part, that is due to my Cancer Ascendant’s need for and identification with family illumination, as I have mentioned. In part, it is due to my having proudly watched Erin Sullivan grow to leadership in astrology from her earliest days of study long ago, and in greatest part, it is because, in Erin Sullivan’s hands, the astrological techniques presented in Dynasty is undeniably magical, her analyses are poetical, and our learning follows naturally, easily, and most gratifyingly.
Thank you, Erin. Dynasty is a masterful contribution to the art of astrology.