Max Rashbrooke meets Graham Ibell, astrologer. Photography by Mark Tantrum

Into galactic

Environmental portrait of  Graeme Ibell - astrologer, at Wellington Astrology Centre, 1st floor mezzanine, 9 Marion Street. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comGra­ham Ibell is a man tan­tal­ised by pre­dic­tion. Per­haps he shouldn’t be; his ‘lin­eage’ of astro­lo­gers are more inclined to use the stars and plan­ets as thera­peut­ic aids, celes­ti­al point­ers to how we can live hap­pi­er lives. Yet he’s drawn up Wellington’s horo­scope; he’s seen the signs. How could he not be tempted?

Gra­ham has thought a lot about astro­logy since his first ser­i­ous encounter with it, as a bot­an­ist in his late 20s. “It rocked the boat a little bit with­in me,” he says. But it also made sense. The idea that the ever-mov­ing spheres of heav­en, rotat­ing in per­fect unity, could spell out some­thing about human exist­ence… it was eleg­ant, coher­ent, intric­ate, vast, beau­ti­ful, tra­di­tion­al, his­tor­ic­al. Gra­ham was, and is, “a seeker of ideas, inform­a­tion and truth. And astro­logy helps answer the biggest questions.”

He lives now in Rau­mati, but comes to work at the Wel­ling­ton Astro­logy Centre, an office on the first floor of 9 Mari­on Street that he shares with two tar­ot read­ers and oth­er astro­lo­gers. Here he sees cli­ents, and tries to use the stars to draw a pic­ture of “their essence, their per­son­al­ity, their drive, their motiv­a­tion”. They might have Mars, the plan­et of war, prom­in­ent in their horo­scope, but be in deni­al about its effect on their life. “My job is to help them step into their angry assert­ive­ness… to use their phys­ic­al body more, or stand up to their boss more.”

The res­ults can be remark­able. “I really like it when people go away light­er and, though it sounds pre­ten­tious, almost illu­min­ated. That’s what was lack­ing in my job as a sci­ent­ist. I wasn’t touch­ing people’s lives — and I really like touch­ing people deeply.”

How does he think it works, this link between the path of the stars and people’s per­son­al­it­ies? Gra­ham pauses, and says, “It’s actu­ally a really dif­fi­cult one to answer.” Albeit one that, hav­ing been asked so often, he might have found an answer for. “In some ways, I make no apo­logy for that, because it’s like a mys­tery. I’m cap­tured by the mys­tery. When we look for mech­an­isms, we start to des­troy astro­logy. We turn it into a sci­ence, we pick away at it. It’s a dif­fer­ent kind of truth.”

But at the same time, an empir­ic­al claim, a pre­dic­tion, is being made, is it not? “Maybe I’m full of con­tra­dic­tions,” he says, pon­der­ing the point. Pre­dic­tion is such a dicey busi­ness. “But through chart­ing his­tory, we start to see that there is almost a cause, if you like, that the plan­ets are caus­ing things to hap­pen to the Earth. There seems to be a para­dox here.”

Para­doxes aplenty, in fact. Horo­scopes for cit­ies are, appar­ently, a real thing, and Gra­ham has drawn up Wellington’s. But while he hasn’t yet used it to fore­tell the city’s future, it holds “tan­tal­ising” things. “You could pre­dict phys­ic­al phe­nom­ena, such as weath­er events… It would be too flip­pant for me to say that you can see a massive earth­quake com­ing in the next few years. But at the same time, there are cer­tainly signs in five to ten years that need to be taken care of.” The horo­scope, he adds, could pre­dict “polit­ic­al sea changes”, and could be used “by enlightened lead­ers to say… how do I best man­age this city?”

But is Celia listen­ing? “Oh no,” he says; the may­or, he under­stands, isn’t a believ­er, and is unlikely to be appoint­ing a chief astro­lo­ger, as a medi­aev­al king might have done. “It’s sad that that’s been lost. It’s a role that has its prob­lems, because it can invoke a kind of power-hun­gri­ness, which most astro­lo­gers have to be aware of in our work. But it would be nice if we had that role.” Instead, he has to be con­tent with help­ing the odd busi­ness (“I’ve worked with an advert­ising com­pany, I’ve worked with a music­al instru­ment com­pany… it’s one of the areas astro­logy could be incred­ibly power­ful in, organ­isa­tion­al change”) — and, of course, hold­ing up the mir­ror to people’s selves.

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