In my childhood in the 1980s, I had no knowledge of astrology other than a limited exposure to the various media Sun sign forecasts, which I did not take especially seriously or read with any regularity.
My journey of astrological discovery therefore started quite unexpectedly in the summer of 1994 when I’d just finished my first year studying towards a B.A. in French at the University of Hull. My mother had decided to take me on a week’s tour of parts of North Yorkshire so we could enjoy a relaxing holiday just before my second year of studies began; and it was while staying in the self-catering accommodation she’d booked in a small inland town that I happened upon a well-used paperback copy of Linda Goodman’s Love Signs left out by the owner on the coffee table. It proved engrossing to read, and as a somewhat sceptical philosopher by first instinct, I was genuinely very surprised by the lifelike accuracy of the author’s portraits of the interactions between the Sun signs, which I could relate to quite powerfully based on personal experience of both family and friends I’d known really well.
A year on, in the summer holidays of 1995, an art teacher friend of my father’s called Jo Hopkins got talking with me about astrology and lent me her copies of both ‘Sun Signs’ and ‘Love Signs’ by Linda Goodman. That November, I experienced a vivid dream in which I visited an astrological research centre supposedly run by Ms. Goodman, and came face to face with her for a consultation, then was pointed by an assistant of hers to a bookshop on the site that contained a great wealth of additional books on astrology. I found out only years later that in real life, she had passed away just the previous month, so barring the possibility of an encounter with her spirit energy, it seems reasonable to surmise that her appearance in the dream was purely symbolic. But in other respects, the dream was to prove remarkably prophetic of my future path.
At half-term in February 1996, I purchased a new copy of Parkers’ Astrology from Waterstone’s in Shrewsbury, and used it to teach myself to accurately cast natal charts, as well as to explore synastry, transits and progressions.
The following summer, with three months to spare before my final year at university began, I was staying up in Edinburgh, where I found a very good metaphysical bookshop called Body and Soul that contained a long shelf of specialised astrology books. After extensive browsing, I bought dozens of them, as well as others from the local branches of Waterstone’s and at least one other bookshop in the Scottish capital, and spent a lot of time that summer reading and studying more advanced astrological topics, as well as testing them out in practice on the birth charts of people I knew. I further ordered some thirty other books by mail order. By the end of 1996, I had almost sixty books on astrology, having started it with just three.
At that early stage, it was still very much the personal collection of an enthusiastic young student, but in the summer of 2001, I got involved in an astrological chat room on the Microsoft Network, and by the end of the year had been offered the role of assistant manager of an astrology community site on MSN Groups that was run by one of the chat room regulars, a man from Los Angeles. In this new (voluntary) role, I resolved to put together informative pages on the elements of astrology within the group. This motivated me to improve my reading still further, particularly with regard to historical sources and reprints. I bought quite a few books from John Etherington of Midheaven Books in London, and many others from the late Dave Roell of Astroamerica in the United States, as well as facsimile reprints of rare older texts from John Ballantrae in Canada, and by the Spring of 2004, my collection was up to 300 books.
That summer, in connection with an emerging relationship, I moved out to Sweden for the next twelve years, but I’d been enjoying the process of historical astrological discovery so much that I did not want to stop there, so I registered the domain name astrolearn.com to use for a long-term bibliographical project and continued collecting. Almost every new acquisition opened new lines of investigation and new bibliographical leads, aside from which it was possible to find good astrological booklists online too.
The next six years, facilitated by a little money inherited from one of my grandmothers, saw an extension of my collection into original printings from past centuries, as well as a great many from the early 20th century, many books in French and German, and numerous academic critical editions and essay collections. By the end of 2009, I had a complete large room filled with bookcases containing about 4,000 books, numerous magazines and some prophetic almanacs.
By the end of 2010, I had no savings left and very low income, and so I made only incremental and highly selective further acquisitions in the years to follow, chiefly in the area of academic history books of relevance to astrology and rare old astrological magazines, but I had such limited means that I had ceased to buy new general astrology books altogether, and had to stop most of my magazine subscriptions too. I tried to make a small business out of high-quality digital reproductions of out-of-copyright sources in my collection, but the market for these was not sufficient to live on, and matters came to a head economically in 2016. With no viable basis for remaining in Sweden, I moved back to the UK to start a regular job, and my whole book collection was placed in storage for the next two years.
In 2018, I took possession of a spacious old house in ramshackle condition in the Welsh city of Newport. Once necessary works had been carried out, I finally had the opportunity to unpack again that Autumn, spreading the book collection over the three downstairs rooms.
Since then, and with the books finally seeing the light of day in visitable premises in the UK, I’ve found the British and international astrological community to have been very supportive of my efforts, and I’ve enjoyed visits from several astrologers as well as a number of donations of books and magazines. This enthusiasm from others has helped to renew my sense of purpose in taking the library project forward again. I’ve lately been on a drive to bring the library holdings back up to date, chasing after previously missed new books published in the 21st century.
Just this summer, I was asked by Roy Gillett, the President of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, of which I’ve been a member for many years now, to provide storage for an archive of foreign-language books and periodicals it owns. The AA Archive, whose holdings are largely complementary to those in my private collection, was installed here just this summer, mostly in its own dedicated upstairs room, and the combined resources of my private collection and the archive are such that I think it fair to say that one of the most complete combined resources of printed astrological literature in the western world is now under one roof together here in Newport, although only part of it is under my ownership!
I’m really looking forward to the possibilities that the establishment of the combined library will open up in terms of visiting astrologers and researchers. It feels as though what had for quite a few years been something of an eccentric private collection accessible only to me when I was living alone in cramped rented accommodation in Sweden is now set to take on increased importance as a research resource shared among a much wider range of astrologers and historians. I hope it will indeed prove to stand the test of time as a permanent research resource, and I am looking forward to continuing to work with the British and international communities to help make sure of that.
Because the library is entirely unfunded, I have no choice but to continue in my outside job for the time being, so it (including the AA Archive) can only be opened to visiting astrologers by appointment on weekends. Perhaps in the long run, the astrological community and interested portions of the academic community will come together to fund it so that it can be visited at any time and becomes an even more fruitful breeding ground for astrological and historical research. I certainly hope so, although I think a lot of collective will, co-operation and fundraising will be needed to make that dream a reality.
You can contact Philip in connection with a visit to the library at firstname.lastname@example.org